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DVD REVIEW: A&E’s “The Romance Collection: Special Edition” “Jane Eyre”

A while back we received an unusual request at Dear Author. We were asked to review something other than a book -‘ a DVD set called "The Romance Collection: Special Edition." The 14 DVD set, which can be found here, usually retails for $99.95 but is currently on sale for $59.97, and contains nearly 30 hours of programming (not including the special features) from A&E’s romantic films and miniseries.

The eight titles included in "The Romance Collection: Special Edition" are as follows: "Pride and Prejudice" starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle, "Victoria and Albert," starring Nigel Hawthorne, Jonathan Pryce and Sir Peter Ustinov, "Emma," starring Kate Beckinsale, "Jane Eyre," starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds, "Lorna Doone," starring Martin Clunes, Richard Coyle, Aidan Gillen and Amelia Warner, "The Scarlet Pimpernel," starring Richard E. Grant and Elizabeth McGovern, "Tom Jones," starring Max Beesley, Samantha Morton and Benjamin Whitrow, and "Ivanhoe," starring Steven Waddington and Ciaran Hinds.

This review is, obviously, for Jane Eyre starring Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds. It’s an A&E Home Video Production originally shown in 1997 and released on DVD in 1999.

Directors: Robert Young (III)
Format: Closed-captioned, Color, DVD-Video, NTSC
Language: English
Subtitles: English
Region: All Regions
Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1
Number of discs: 1
Studio: A&E Home Video
DVD Release Date: October 26, 1999
Run Time: 108 minutes

I will also cop to Janine’s claim of being a Philistine and admit that if I’ve ever managed to make it all the way through this book, I’ve forgotten when it was. I do know the outline of the story and was able to follow the storyline with no problems. And that is where some may have problems with this film version of the book. With its short runtime (108 minutes) there’s a lot that was, of necessity, cut from the book. Jane’s early years at her aunt’s home and at Lowood School are zipped through by the 12 minute mark. Her early months at Thornfield over within 3-4 more minutes. Her trip to her dying aunt’s home is never actually shown and her stay with the Rivers is over almost as soon as it’s begun.

The bulk of the film dwells on Jane’s growing relationship with Mr. Rochester, watching him flirt with Blanche Ingram, seeing Jane teaching Adele, wondering who Grace Poole is and if she’ll burn the house down around their ears. While the book most definitely should be called “Jane Eyre” as it showcases her throughout her life, this film version should almost be called “Jane and Mr. Rochester” since he shares so much screen time with her.

A quick check of other reviews and review sites shows a broad range of opinions for this version. Some people loved it while others loathed it. Morton and Hinds are praised, individually and together, almost as much as each is panned. I’ve seen both of them in other productions and know them to be excellent actors. Here I was torn.

I like Morton as Jane. She has a mercurial ability to be both plain and beautiful. Unlike Blanche Ingram, Jane is not supposed to be a “knock’em dead” beauty. Hers is the beauty that shines from within and glows under the care of a man who loves her. Morton captures this nicely. But I did wonder at her outspokenness to Mr. Rochester and the fact that, due to the telescoped nature of the production, she almost comes off in almost Mary Sue fashion. She’s quickly the beloved teacher at Lowood, the adored governess of Adele, the overwhelming love object of Mr. Rochester and the perfect missionary’s wife candidate for St. John Rivers.

As Mr. Rochester, Ciaran Hinds seems to have two speeds: smoldering jealousy and shouting. In a few scenes, notably when he tells Jane of Adele’s mother and later welcomes her back to Thornfield from her visit to her aunt’s, he shows his usual range of nuanced feeling. But most times he looks like he’s about to erupt in a shouting session or is already in one. Physically, he’s a great Rochester, all dark and brooding. Not classically handsome but a face that captures one’s attention and speaks of strength. Their declarations of love and first kiss are palpable while Jane’s heartache at needing to leave Thornfield after their aborted wedding is wrenching.

As for the other actors, Gemma Jones is her usual outstanding self as Mrs. Fairfax while Abigail Cruttenden is a fine Blanche. Most of the other adults are adequate in their roles but unfortunately few of them have enough screen time for me to really comment. I did find that the children tended to overact their parts and I was quite happy for them to leave the sceen.

The costumes, locations, hair styling and music were fine. The lighting made the scenes fairly dark and the colors look muddy. I’m not sure if this was an intentional attempt to capture the gothic feel of the book or just badly done. The DVD has closed captioning which I like though the captions lagged behind and often didn’t match what was actually occurring on screen. I especially liked the scoring of the film. The music highlights the emotions shown onscreen but never overwhelms them in an ocean of stringed instruments. The exterior and interior shots of Thornfield convey the dark emotions of the house while the final lighting of Jane and Edward shows the happiness they’ve found in each other.

I would have liked for this production to be a little longer. Even a full two hours would have allowed for a more complete exploration of the book. It does hit the highlights of the story and includes the crucial scenes needed to show how the characters end up together. Additional features include cast filmographies and a short biography of Charlotte Bronte.

Anyone interested in buying it should probably rent it first to see if this is a version that will please them. If you like banked emotions waiting to roar into flames, dark glances and brooding scenery this could be the one for you. On the other hand, some will see it as too darkly shot, filled with blustering and missing favorite scenes from the book. I like it well enough to give it a B- and this is from a woman who doesn’t particularly like gothic, Victorian era settings.

~Jayne

Purchase link at the A&E store.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

21 Comments

  1. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 14:02:54

    Let me add that A&E is having a fantastic sale now and this collection is available for $40 off the usual price.

  2. Janine
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 14:25:19

    I just edited to add the sale price into the intro ($59.97 for 30 hours of programming is a real bargain!). I had to edit the intro anyway since it’s been over a month since the original review request.

    I really enjoyed reading this review. I haven’t seen this movie but I like Samantha Morton a lot as an actress. She was the best thing in “Minority Report.”

  3. Linda Mooney
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 15:22:59

    Hands down the version of Jane Eyre I prefer is the one with Timothy Dalton as Rochester, and Zelah Clarke as Jane.

    As for The Scarlet Pimpernel (the very first superhero who used an alternate disguise), I’m sticking with the Anthony Andrews/Jane Seymour version.

    Just two alternates you might want to check out. :D

  4. Aoife
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 15:35:16

    As actors, I like Samantha Morton and Ciaran Hinds a lot. My objections to this version of Jane Eyre really lie not with the actors, who did a fine job with what they were given to work with, but with whoever wrote the screenplay. There is absolutely no way a running time of 108 minutes can result in anything but characters who are caricatures, and whose actions make very little pyschological sense. All the richness and nuances of Jane and Rochester were diluted, or, worse, made to seem almost soap opera-ish and silly. I’ve watched this version several times, and every time I keep thinking how much better it could have and should have been.

  5. Susan/DC
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 19:03:51

    Ciaran Hinds in “Ivanhoe” is virility, danger, and sex personified. In “Jane Eyre”, not so much. I couldn’t get past the sideburns and the shouting.

  6. Zoe Archer
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 19:11:41

    Linda, I totally agree with you about the version with Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke. Not only is the acting excellent, but the length permits the full depth of plot and character development.

    I have read Jane Eyre several times and watched many, many versions, and the Dalton/Clarke version is by far my favorite.

  7. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 21:13:05

    Linda, I adore that version of “The Scarlet Pimpernel” and almost wore my VHS copy out over the years.

  8. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 21:18:00

    Susan, I have our copy of Hinds in “Ivanhoe” and plan on watching it soon after the Olympics are over. I tend to agree with you about the shouting in this one. Plus men’s facial hair styles from this era send me into giggles.

  9. Jayne
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 21:21:15

    Aoife, I found the length very disappointing. After all, so much time was alloted to “P&P” and “Tom Jones” and looks to be given to “Ivanhoe” (haven’t watched this version yet) so…why not at least 2 hours if not 2.5 for “Jane Eyre?”

    I think I’ve seen parts of the Dalton one but since this book obviously isn’t one of my favs, I’ve never made the effort to see the whole thing.

  10. SonomaLass
    Aug 16, 2008 @ 23:37:46

    This book was such a staple of my girlhood that I can’t even say whether it’s one of my favorites. It’s just there, and powerful, like the Laura Ingalls Wilder series and Little Women.

    I have avoided this adaptation because of the length, and it sounds like I was right to do so. I’m usually pretty good at accepting adaptation as a separate art form, but not always. And although I love Ciaran Hinds more than my luggage, I don’t think thing this sounds like his best work.

    I think I’ll watch him and Amanda Root in Persuasion, AGAIN.

  11. Aoife
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 07:46:02

    “And although I love Ciaran Hinds more than my luggage, I don't think thing this sounds like his best work.

    I think I'll watch him and Amanda Root in Persuasion, AGAIN.”

    Oh, yes. This is one of the best short Austen adaptations ever, IMO. It makes the recent version of Persuasion, referred to in my family as Galloping Around Bath, look rather silly.

  12. Jayne
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 08:13:10

    Hinds and Amanda Root are fabulous in that version of “Persuasion!” That look on her face is unforgettable when she realizes he still loves her. The glow could light a room.

  13. DS
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 08:52:52

    I liked Hinds as Mr. Rochester. Timothy Dalton was prettier (sighed over him in high school as Heathcliff) and smoother– Hinds plays him more as I read the character in the book– harsh featured, older, physically powerful. A mature Byronic figure rather than a leading man. Dalton was about 37 and Hinds 44 when they played Rochester which probably had an effect.

    This version always struck me as the one for people who know the story well as it doesn’t concentrate on the bits of the story that concern Jane at home, at Lowood, and after she flees Thornfield Hall.

    If you really want to wince try the version with George C. Scott and Susannah York.

  14. MaryK
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 15:42:16

    I haven’t read Jane Eyre and have only seen one movie version. A couple of weeks ago I watched this one. It’s 3+ hours, but I was riveted; I think I like it more than North & South and Pride and Prejudice. Some Amazon reviewers don’t like it because it apparently deviates from the book in places; but as a movie, it’s great.

  15. Caffey
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 16:55:03

    You had up that it was closed captioned on this post, but sadly, I went to the site and it says its not closed captioned :( Maybe just the movie you reviewed happens to be closed captioned? Do you know if the others are captioned, especially P&P with Colin Firth. I’ll be so disappointed if they aren’t captioned. I’m deaf so I haven’t been able to watch these, especially the Colin Firth P&P that has never bee captioned. This is what it said at the site about closed captioning:

    Format: DVD
    Number of Discs: 14
    Run Time: 1830+ Minutes
    ISBN: 1-4229-1033-4
    Closed Captioning: No
    Subtitles: No
    Gift Wrap Available: Yes

    Some aren’t as good closed captioned as others. The lag can be awkward, but its better than no captions! Thanks again. Let me know if you know if the others are captioned cuz it says no at the site but so far you saw one and it was.

  16. Jayne
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 17:43:22

    Caffey, the disc I watched is from this collection on sale at A&E and it definitely IS close captioned. This is noted at Amazon as well. None of the others that I have (P&P, Ivanhoe, Tom Jones or Lorna Doone) are. I’m not sure about the Pimpernel discs, Victoria and Albert or Emma.

  17. Kaitlin
    Aug 17, 2008 @ 21:40:58

    My favorite version of Jane Eyre is the one with Ruth Wilson & Toby Stephens. Yummy! I don’t even think Mr. Stephen’s is all that hot, but in this version? PASSION! Lots and lots of passion. :)

  18. MCHalliday
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 18:58:11

    My objections to this version of Jane Eyre…[are] with whoever wrote the screenplay. There is absolutely no way a running time of 108 minutes can result in anything but characters who are caricatures, and whose actions make very little pyschological sense.

    Most production companies require a screenplay of no less than 130 minutes with ‘beats’ (high tension) at particular minute points. The script will be cut if the movie budget is limited and it affects the writers ‘beats’.

    Added to that, a writer’s screenplay is never final and will be modified in any and all ways to suit the director and the producers, so the end result may have the screenwriter’s name but in many cases, does not resemble the original script.

  19. Evie Byrne
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 20:15:36

    Just chiming in to back up Kaitlin. The Eyre with Wilson and Stephens is my favorite version. It is decidedly hot (in that repressed Eyrish way).

  20. Vivian
    Aug 18, 2008 @ 21:20:52

    I’m agreeing with those who have been talking about the BBC version of Jane Eyre with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens. Lots and lots of yum, plus the music when Jane and Rochester get caught in the rain? SO gorgeous.

    Thank you Jayne for this post :) I love period dramas!

  21. Jayne
    Aug 19, 2008 @ 06:36:10

    Okay, I’m seeing a pattern here. I needs must try the Stephens/Wilson version at some future date. Thanks for the recs ladies.

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