FILM REVIEW: Jane Eyre (PG)

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The Bronte sisters are back in fashion this autumn.

November heralds Andrea Arnold’s eagerly anticipated adaptation of Wuthering Heights, distinguished by the casting of James Howson as the first black actor to portray Heathcliff on the big screen.

In the meantime, director Cary Joji Fukunaga spoils us with his artfully composed version of Charlotte Bronte’s timeless romance, the first film version of Jane Eyre since Zeffirelli paired Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt as the lovers across the social divide.

Fukunaga chooses Mia Wasikowska as the much abused heroine and is rewarded with a deeply moving and emotionally wrought performance.

With a single mournful look into the camera, the fast-rising Australian actress conveys all of the unspoken desires and shattered dreams of a young woman, who has survived as much by her wits as by good fortune.

She is both beautiful yet ghostly pale, flushing with colour when Jane experiences the first pangs of love.

Michael Fassbender proves a sexy and brooding Rochester, who falls under Jane’s spell but conceals a terrible, dark secret that could poison their relationship forever.

Fukunaga’s colour-bleached film opens with Jane (Wasikowska) fleeing Thornfield Hall in tears, where she has been employed as governess for Adele Varens (Settbon Moore), the young ward of Edward Rochester (Fassbender).

Stumbling across the moors, she seeks refuge with clergyman St John Rivers (Jamie Bell) and his sisters Diana (Holliday Grainger) and Mary (Tamzin Merchant) at Moor House.

As Jane recuperates, she recalls her turbulent past.

She remembers her childhood as a 10-year-old (Amelia Clarkson) with her cruel aunt Mrs Reed (Sally Hawkins).

“She has a heart of spite and she is full of wickedness,” Mrs Reed tells Mr Brocklehurst (Simon McBurney), the sadistic headmaster of Lowood charity school, who spirits Jane away to her grim fate.

A friendship with sickly girl Helen Burns (Freya Parks) stiffens Jane’s resolve and once she comes of age, she finds employment at Thornfield, where housekeeper Mrs Fairfax (Dame Judi Dench) welcomes her warmly.

Fleeting romantic notions with Rochester are extinguished with the arrival of Blanche Ingram (Imogen Poots), who the downstairs staff believe will become the master’s wife.

However, something wicked lurks in the upstairs attic.

Elegantly adapted for the screen by Moira Buffini, Jane Eyre condenses the source novel into two hours of yearning and regret.

Wasikowska and Fassbender lead an exemplary ensemble cast including Dench as a bustling maternal figure and Hawkins as a tight-lipped lady of the manor, who can turn a room icy cold with a single withering glance.

Fukunaga’s camera sweeps over the foreboding locations, lashing his lead actress with enough wind and rain to match the emotional battering meted out by Mrs Reed and Mr Brocklehurst.

Jane is a survivor and we will her on, every faltering step.

By Damon Smith

:: NO SWEARING :: NO SEX :: VIOLENCE :: RATING: 7/10

Released: September 9 (UK & Ireland), 120mins