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Thursday, March 31, 2011

Gothic Airs

A Dark, Artful Depiction of Jane Eyre

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Terrible thuds are heard from overhead and the strangest moaning from the unlit nocturnal corridors. Is it the woeful wind against the rafters of Thornfield, the castle of Jane Eyre, or is there truth in the story of a spectral woman who roams the halls by night? But then, the heroine has other problems to ponder, especially the irascible nature of her master, Rochester, and the unexpected stirring of love between them.

Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre has been adapted many times for the screen, but few versions can rival director Cary Fukunaga's dark, artful rendition. Fukunaga was determined to capture the novel's gothic shadows on film; he highlights the deep moodiness of the landscape, the castle and Rochester himself, a man of mystery and dismal secrets. Screenwriter Moira Buffini was also determined to find a feminist subtext to the story. Poor Jane faces the likelihood of spinsterdom bravely, preferring independence to the shackles of loveless marriage but daring to hope for true intimacy. "I imagine things I'm powerless to execute," she says, describing her situation frankly.

Bronte's novel had the resonance of a dark but hopeful fairytale in a setting updated to her own time, 1840s England. The characters and situations are archetypal. Jane is an orphan from a wealthy family whose fortune was snatched from her by a wicked step aunt. She is bundled off to a sadistic boarding school where, despite being caned for tiny perceived infractions and being made to stand all day without food or water on the "pedestal of infamy," she is able to get a good education. Blessed with a bright and inquiring mind, she takes a position at Thornfield as governess to Adele, the delightful French ward of the castle's mysterious lord, Rochester. He is the arbitrary, brooding demigod of his realm, pursuing his ways in secret. Will a pot of gold await Jane at the end of many treacherous turns along the road?

Mia Wasikowska plays Jane with the quiet intelligence and polite but firm candor that earns the admiration of the abrupt Rochester (Michael Fassbender), whose haughty intellect is burdened by a guilty conscience. She steps around her life like a restless bird in a cage, pecking occasionally at the bars and waiting for the sky. Although the director is American, the production is largely British and the supporting cast is excellent in their costumed roles, especially Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax, the kindly mistress of the servants who warns Jane maternally about drawing too near to the lord of the manor. The gothic setting with its spooky castle amid a misty forest is conducive to a tale of horror, even one whose ghosts result from the wrongdoing of humanity.

Opens April 1, Downer Theatre.