Ranking Rochesters: Best Rochesters in Jane Eyre Adaptations

Since I left my original blog years ago, many things have changed while some things have remained the same. My love for Rochester and the many iterations of him in TV and film throughout history is unalterable, which is why I couldn't wait even a week to publish this post after just having finished ranking the Jane Eyre adaptations. What has changed, however, is the technology at my disposal that I didn't have in 2011--namely the innovation of the gif. Gifs have become one of the best fandom tools, and in cooking them up for this blog post I can easily see why. It was fun spotlight small, sometimes underrated looks and moments from different performances. Below are my rankings of the best and worst portrayals of Jane Eyre's Edward Rochester, complete with gifs of some of my favorite moments from each one. 

12. Colin Clive, Jane Eyre 1934

 "You are a string little thing, aren't you? But charming." 

"You are a string little thing, aren't you? But charming." 

The poor 1934 adaptation is doomed to bringing up the rear in nearly every ranking. Clive just isn't Rochester, partly because he wasn't written to be him and partly because he doesn't attempt to behave like him. The above gif was hilarious, but cute. 

11. Patrick Macnee, Jane Eyre 1957 

 Awkward.

Awkward.

Rochester may be many things--over-sentimental, mysterious, manipulative and even hypocritical--but he isn't a lusty drunk. Macnee plays Rochester like a pervy uncle with a complete disregard for personal space. The way he performs the character, I honestly feel bad for Jane. Why isn't the actress portraying her more uncomfortable?

 

10. Kevin McCarthy, Jane Eyre 1952

                                                                   "As we are!"

                                                                  "As we are!"

The 1952 might have been a decent American TV adaptation had McCarthy even slightly represented the Rochester from the text. McCarthy's Rochester isn't gloomy and haunted in the least. In fact, he's charming, approachable, and nice from the beginning. He's certainly the most optimistic and exuberant Rochester, as seen above. Is McCarthy even in character?

9. Charlton Heston, Jane Eyre 1949 

                                                          "Goodnight, Miss Eyre." 

                                                         "Goodnight, Miss Eyre." 

Positive: Despite all the pitfalls and low production values of this adaptation, Charlton Heston at least seems familiar with the source material. Heston is the first actor to play Rochester as accurately abrupt, sarcastic, and wholly unconcerned with manners in his first conversation with Jane. The 1949 Rochester cares nothing for propriety. He pursues what captures his interest, and that is probing and coaxing a meek (in this adaptation, at least) Jane Eyre out of her reserved shell. 

Negative: None of the characters in this American TV adaptation even try for a British accent. The writing also wasn't faithful enough to make for a truly accurate Rochester. Cheesy TV lines and melodramatic breakneck kisses pepper the adaptation, making it difficult to allow that Heston is trying his best and doing an admirable job given the circumstances. 

8. George C. Scott, Jane Eyre 1970 

                                                       "What the devil do you think you're doing..."

Positive: Despite it's low ranking, this adaptation and its Rochester have some touching moments that I could watch forever. As I've mentioned before, Scott's performance during the leaving scene is particularly heartrending. His Rochester moves through all the reasons why Jane can and should stay with him, dares her to leave, and when she actually does, calls her back longingly, caresses her face, and asks her to wait. Scott brings a curmudgeonly surliness to his portrayal of Rochester. Jane slowly finds her way into his heart, creating a touching romance rooted in a kind of paternal tenderness and devotion. Scott's is different from most portrayals and maybe not so loaded with erotic passion, but it is incredibly sweet. 

Negative: Scott's Rochester is tender and devoted, but is he Rochester? When it comes down to it, Scott never fully immerses himself in the character. As much as we love him, most Jane Eyre fans know that Rochester can get messy, ugly, even a little disconcerting. In short, he has real character flaws that should make an impression on the reader/viewer. Scott gets lost in the shuffle of Rochester performances because he plays the character too safe to make a lasting impact. 

7. William Hurt, Jane Eyre 1996 

                                                                                  "At least--shake hands." 

                                                                                 "At least--shake hands." 

Positive: Hurt's take on Rochester reminds the viewer that Rochester has to learn how to love again after having spent so much time alone and aloof. Both Hurt and Gainsbourg play their characters as 'otherworldly' in the sense that they've become accustomed to living with their own thoughts. In Jane, Hurt's Rochester has found someone to share his with. We see Rochester unburdening himself naturally, almost without thinking, and we can feel the relief it gives him. When Hurt's Rochester lays his face against Gainsbourg's during the proposal, it isn't the explosive moment that many readers imagine and other actors choose to portray. Rather, it is a moment of healing where both characters finally allow themselves to connect after years of solitude. 

Negative: I love William Hurt as an actor, so it was disappointing to be underwhelmed by his performance of Rochester. At its best, and with the right interpretive eye, Hurt's performance is the 'positive' above. At its worst, it's too sedate and one-dimensional to be truly faithful. While Hurt--and the 1996 adaptation as a whole--does a great job of portraying the subtextual themes of loneliness and connection, he doesn't get at the more obvious facets of Rochester--his vigor, his physicality, his unrestrained emotionality--that are clearly spelled out and that any puritan and fan of the book should be able to expect. This may be in part because Hurt doesn't physically fit the billing of the dark, broad shouldered master of Thornfield with large, black, and expressive eyes. 

6. Ciaran Hinds, Jane Eyre 1997

                                                                                   "Jane. Look at me." 

                                                                                  "Jane. Look at me." 

Positive: Unlike Scott and Hurt, viewers could never accuse Hinds of not pushing the boundaries. Hinds really commits himself to portraying a fierce and deeply-flawed Rochester whose character deficiencies are not just things of the past, but still very present concerns. He exhibits Rochester's "state of proud independence" that disdains "every part but that of the giver and protector," and the viewer is able to see those flaws broken down by the end of the adaptation when, unable to give Jane any of the things he formerly valued as expressions of love, all he can do is cry in her arms and bare his vulnerabilities. Additionally, though Hinds' Rochester spends most his time scowling and sulking (a problem addressed below), he also shows a great deal of joy and exuberance, particularly in the scenes following the proposal and before the failed wedding. His smile is so rare that it feels more special when we see it. 

Negative: I'm not entirely sure whether I should have ranked Hinds ahead of Hurt. It's difficult to compare the two because their sins in portraying the character are exact opposites of the other. Where Hurt is too sedate and not expressive enough, Hinds' Rochester at his worst is a loose canon, a screamer, and a total jerk. Hinds' portrayal is perhaps the most mixed bag. His aggressiveness either works well or not at all. Unfortunately the latter is often the case, particularly in the leaving scene where he just screams at Jane repeatedly until she makes it to the carriage. 

5. Orson Welles, Jane Eyre 1943

 "I was to be aided, and by that hand: and aided I was. And then later that evening--do you remember Jane? Say you remember."                   

"I was to be aided, and by that hand: and aided I was. And then later that evening--do you remember Jane? Say you remember."                   

Positive: Orson Welles has a lot going for him, turning in arguably the most underrated performance of Rochester. For one, he is perhaps the most accurate physical representation of the character. He exhibits not only the basic Rochester 'specs'--dark, sparkling eyes, stormy brow, features far from conventionally handsome--but also the character's commanding physical presence. Welles speaks and moves with that vigor, informality, and slight self-importance Brontë ascribes to Rochester. While parts of his performance (the proposal scene in particular) have the usual melodramatic stylistics of any 40s film, it usually works for the character and the gothic tone of the adaptation as a whole. Even in such a dramatic film, Welles produces an incredibly subtle and beautifully-performed leaving scene. The gentleness of his voice and expressions in that moment takes my breath away, especially after the power and intensity of his earlier scenes. 

Negative: It is a 40s Hollywood film, and Welles is Welles, meaning there is a clear dose of proto-film noir melodrama in his performance that likely won't sit well with viewers looking for fresh and fluid realism. Due to the cinematic context and constraints of the genre, Welles' portrayal of Rochester might strike younger viewers as outdated, overdone, and lacking in romanticism. And even I, with all my love for vintage film and its methods of study, would agree. Welles does something great within a certain context, but he is not a Rochester that can define the character for all time.

4. Toby Stephens, Jane Eyre 2006

                                                                         "Then I will say: don't go, Jane." 

                                                                        "Then I will say: don't go, Jane." 

Positive: Finally, a Rochester viewers could believe flew through Europe bedding mistresses left and right. Stephens brings a sexiness and sensuality to the role of Rochester that no other actor does, and it's refreshing and needed. Once again, this isn't simply the specs and the fact that Stephens is oddly gorgeous even with his muttonchops and extensions, but how he strategically portrays the character's physicality and charisma through his speech and movement. In an interview for the miniseries, Stephens spoke a lot about Rochester's (and Jane's) sexuality and how it influences the intimacy between the characters. His attention to that in his approach to the character reminds viewers and readers just how 'scandalous' Jane Eyre was for a victorian novel. Like it or not, Jane knows that Rochester has the tools to be sexually persuasive, and he's willing to use them ("Do you mean it now? And now?"). But none of this is to say that Stephens purely sexualizes the character and little else. His Rochester connects to Jane on a soul level (as he continually reiterates), and his relationship with her teaches him emotional and spiritual intimacy after years of defining relationships physically. 

Negative: I spoke about this in my adaptations rankings, but despite the great job Stephens does highlighting a less-emphasized aspect of the character, he doesn't fully exhibit or inhabit the more evident, traditional facets of Rochester that readers have come to expect. After his early conversations with Jane, Stephens' Rochester ceases to be fully mercurial, eccentric, and off-putting. In the book, there are moments where we ask ourselves (alongside Jane) about Rochester, "What is he doing here? What does he mean by this?? What is he about?!" He just doesn't make sense sometimes! Stephens doesn't fully play that strangeness or "curious, designing mind."

3. Michael Jayston, Jane Eyre 1973 

 "You have a curious, designing mind, Mr. Rochester."                                                                                 "Matched to yours, you said so." 

"You have a curious, designing mind, Mr. Rochester."                                                                                 "Matched to yours, you said so." 

Positive: "Yet there was so much unconscious pride in his port; so much ease in his demeanour; such a look of complete indifference to his own external appearance; so haughty a reliance on the power of other qualities...to atone for the lack of mere personal attractiveness." Jayston's performance truly embodies Jane's above description. Jayston/Rochester is not a handsome man. What you see is what you get, and yet something about that mischievous smile, his cutting sarcasm, his quirkiness, and the complete confidence with which he carries himself makes him magnetic and engaging. Jayston's Rochester is also weird. At first, that was what I disliked about him, but now I appreciate that it's exactly what makes him so faithful to the Rochester of the novel--he bucks tradition and propriety, speaks using dramatic and enigmatical language, dresses in drag to extort confessions from the woman he loves. What Jane Eyre fans don't care to admit is that Rochester is incredibly contradictory. He'd rather pretend to court someone else, dress up as a woman, and threaten to send Jane to Ireland get a reaction from her than simply declare himself. And yet, he loves Jane. While other actors and adaptations shy away from that seeming paradox, Jayston pulls it off and makes us believe it. He may not be the smoldering, romantic gothic hero we'd prefer to watch, but he's true.

Negative: As I've mentioned before, Jayston is at his best mostly pre-proposal when he gets to show off Rochester's eccentricity and mischief-making. He is good at being relaxed, odd, and flirtatious. He is not as good at being urgent and passionate. Jayston's proposal, leaving, and reunion scene performances are good--parts of them are even incredibly touching--but they aren't powerful or climactic. When it's time for Rochester to move from being the puzzling and bizarre suitor to the raw, desperate, and broken lover of the latter scenes, he isn't as convincing.

2. Michael Fassbender, Jane Eyre 2011 

 "I pledge you my honor, my fidelity, my love 'til death do us part."                                                                           "What of truth?" 

"I pledge you my honor, my fidelity, my love 'til death do us part."                                                                           "What of truth?" 

Positive: One of my favorite moments of Fassbender's in Jane Eyre is not one of the romantic scenes we usually use to define Rochester, but the scene where he sits gloomily (dare I say morosely?) at the piano playing an augmented fourth. Mrs. Fairfax comes forward with his tea and he responds with a terse and spoiled, "Keep it!" Then he gives this 'look' that communicates a vast array of emotions in just a few seconds--weariness, frustration, woe, pain. What I like most about Fassbender's Rochester is that he is properly miserable, and it feels real. He is suffering, and the audience, like Jane in the novel, grieves for him without really knowing why. His acerbic wit is a front for his hurt, but as the film progresses we see other layers of him revealed--his genuine smile, his odd charm, his sensitivity. He, like Stephens in the 2006, adds a certain kind of sexiness to the role, but Fassbender's Rochester has less of the upper hand. He and Jane are clearly attracted to each other, but she's too good at resisting him, creating this cute dynamic where Rochester for once is the dazzled, infatuated pursuant. Finally: Gawd, what a leaving scene! 

Negative: As with the 2011 adaptation in general, a lot of the negatives come down to lack of time, but that's not really a critique is it? When it comes to acting the unspoken details of Rochester, few can match Fassbender. His weakness is Rochester's romantic speaking parts. Compared to the rest of his performance, his delivery of the best lines from the book in the fire and proposal scenes isn't as packed with the same commitment and depth of feeling. The iconic lines--"you rare unearthly thing," "I must have you for my own," "that expression did not strike delight in my very inmost heart"--seem to overpower him, almost as if he knows their magnitude and approaches them timidly.   

1. Timothy Dalton, Jane Eyre 1983

 "To live, for me, Jane, is to stand on a crater-crust that may crack and spew fire any day. Now you look puzzled!" 

"To live, for me, Jane, is to stand on a crater-crust that may crack and spew fire any day. Now you look puzzled!" 

Positive: Timothy Dalton is a force, delivering the most consistently good scenes as Rochester. Whereas Jayston and Fassbender peter out a bit when it comes to performing the 'hallmark' scenes between Jane and Rochester--the fire, the proposal, Jane's departure, and the reunion--those passion-packed moments are Dalton's bread and butter, where he really becomes Rochester. In my rankings of those scenes, the 1983 is consistently among the best because of his stellar performances. Dalton is another powerful physical presence, towering above Clarke's Jane and sporting a bass voice that carries and conveys Rochester's commanding tone and even his stormy temper. But Dalton also knows how to be earnest and soft, and those moments are just as believable. No matter what Rochester's mood, Dalton infuses it with conviction. The audience buys his Rochester in all his forms--his anger, his tenderness, his sadness, his happiness and his conflict. We see why Rochester is intrigued that Jane holds up so well under his gaze and questioning and even matches him back. He's so piercing, so intense, so direct about what he feels that most people don't know what to do with him. In light of Dalton's performance, it makes sense that Rochester asks, "You're afraid of me?" 

Negative: Once again, for a younger or more modern audience, Dalton could also be a bit 'much.' He doesn't overact as much as Orson Welles, but in his commitment to that conviction I mentioned above, there are moments where we wish he could dial it back just a bit. He puts everything on the table all the time, leaving little nuance for the audience to decipher, particularly when he portrays more volatile emotions. Also, this gif is perfection. Gosh, he's hot! That would be an obvious positive were it not for the fact that Rochester has no business looking that cute. 

Ranking Jane Eyre Adaptations

My first post in this blogging experience is simple: revisiting one of the first posts I ever did as a blogger and fanatic seven years ago. Simple as it may seem, ranking the Jane Eyre adaptations anew is exciting! It's an opportunity to map how my tastes have changed over the years. I also know now that ranking Jane Eyre interpretations definitively is impossible. Every true lit lover, and every Jane Eyre fanatic in particular, knows that 'tastes differ.' There is no 'complete' or 'perfect' adaptation of such a multifaceted book, and so one may be the frontrunner one week while another may speak to another aspect of the novel the next. Yet, we all have that "one" that we hold dearest. I'll try not to let it influence my rankings. 

12. Jane Eyre 1934, starring Virginia Bruce as Jane and Colin Clive as Mr. Rochester

1934.jpg

The Good: There's nothing "good" about this adaptation, only things that maybe aren't so bad. Perhaps it's nice that we see Rochester is clearly in love with Jane from the beginning? 

The Bad: Not even time can change the 1934's position as the worst adaptation. Nothing about it is good, even considering the time period. There's no faithfulness to Brontë's characters, the dialogue, or the plot. The script is the main culprit here, butchering everything that makes Jane Eyre the novel it is and leaving nothing for the actors to deliver. Rochester is a kind and caring uncle to Adele and an attentive suitor to Jane with no real character hitches, and Jane is about as unremarkable as it gets. I wouldn't even recommend watching this film except to give yourself a good laugh. 

Grade: F-

11. Jane Eyre 1957, starring Joan Elan as Jane and Patrick Macnee as Mr. Rochester

1957.jpg

The Good: The highpoint of this otherwise horrible adaptation are the final minutes of the last scene. The reworking of Jane's "I will be your neighbor, your nurse, your companion" line maybe a little cute. 

The Bad: I always had a theory that adaptations generally get better across time. This one proved me wrong. I was surprised by how entirely unfaithful this adaptation was to the source material. The major points of departure: Jane and Rochester never get to the altar, they're simply interrupted by Mason during the proposal (huh?), Rochester's intentions toward Jane appear unsavory and predatory (there's an awkward scene of him coming onto Jane while he's drunk), and Jane is overly empathetic and a hopeless romantic, almost infantilizing Rochester as a tortured soul. This adaptation seems like a satirical interpretation of Jane Eyre by someone who didn't enjoy the novel. 

Grade: F-

10. Jane Eyre 1949, starring Mary Sinclair as Jane and Charlton Heston as Mr. Rochester

1949.jpg

The Good: This version really only gets bumped up from being second worst because the 1957 was so disappointing. While this studio set TV version isn't good or faithful by any stretch of the imagination, the characters are at least portrayed somewhat more accurately. Charlton Heston in particular does a credible job of delivering his lines and showing Mr. Rochester's enigmatical nature in a short amount of time. The adaptation also gives more attention to the role of class in interactions between characters, with Rochester characterized as more of an authority figure (as opposed to a friend like in the 1934 version) and Jane being particularly aware of her status as a governess. Rochester wants to break those boundaries, while Mary Sinclair's Jane cautiously reminds him of their existence. 

The Bad: The above being said, Mary Sinclair's Jane is too reserved and mild-mannered. The writing does little to help this portrayal. Whereas the Jane of the novel is blunt, even "brusque," Sinclair's Jane never volunteers her opinion unless strong-armed by Rochester. Instead of declaring her equality and independence in the proposal scene, Jane cries, "Oh, do not make sport of me!" and observes, "I am only Jane Eyre." Like most pre-60s adaptations (the '34, '43, '52, and '57), this version departs significantly from the novel in that it does not include Jane's relationship with the Rivers family or the proposal from St. John Rivers. In fact, most those adaptations fail to include St. John at all. The 1949 may be a slight improvement on the '57 and '34, but it doesn't follow that the adaptation is a good one. 

Grade: D- 

9. Jane Eyre 1952, starring Katharine Bard as Jane and Kevin McCarthy as Mr. Rochester

1952.jpg

The Good: This is another truncated TV studio tape that omits Jane's childhood and her time with the Rivers family. However, I was pleasantly surprised by how heavily the adaptation pulled dialogue directly from the book. This adaptation improved on the 1949 version, adding more interaction between Jane and Rochester and taking more language directly from the novel. Katharine Bard was also the first actress to capture Jane's independent spirit, doing better than even some film actresses in declaring herself Rochester's equal. 

The Bad: I'm not a fan of Kevin McCarthy's take on Rochester, preferring Charlton Heston as far as pre-60s TV adaptations go. McCarthy dials back on Rochester's mercurial personality, playing him like a middle-class TV sitcom dad. The script's credible faithfulness to the dialogue between Jane and Rochester was overshadowed by McCarthy's unfaithful delivery and his poor chemistry with Bard. This adaptation's crowning achievement is managing to be just slightly better and more faithful than its early TV counterparts. 

Grade: D- 

The next tier of adaptations are the most difficult to rank and the most likely to shift depending on my mood and preferences at the moment. They share some common characteristics: varying degrees of faithfulness and questionable performances by the leads. 

8. Jane Eyre 1997, starring Samantha Morton as Jane and Ciaran Hinds as Mr. Rochester

1997.jpg

The Good: I appreciate that this version captures the difference in age between Jane and Rochester. Samantha Morton looks like Jane with her young appearance and plain but piercing face. The accurate age difference highlights the strange dynamic between the characters in the novel. Rochester is Jane's social and experiential superior, and yet he still relies on her and respects her as an advisor and equal despite her age and position. The best scene in this adaptation the conversation following Mason's injury and the reunion scene when Hinds turns on the waterworks and wishes he could see Jane's face. 

The Bad: While Hinds delivers some beautiful scenes like the ones above, in most of his scenes he plays Rochester all wrong. The proposal (including the infamous open-mouthed kiss) and leaving scenes are particularly disastrous. Hinds is screamy, overly aggressive, and unfaithful. This an indictment not only on Hinds' acting, but on the direction and the faithfulness of the script. What would possess a screenwriter to have Rochester accuse Jane of being spoiled after he was just busted for attempted bigamy? In the 1997 version, Rochester is neither repentant as Jane leaves or grateful at first when she returns. (Aside: I know that Hinds could do better with different scripting and direction because he also played Rochester in a 1994 radio adaptation, where his performance was excellent.) 

Grade: C-

7. Jane Eyre 1970, starring Susannah York as Jane and George C. Scott as Mr. Rochester

1970.jpg

The Good: In an otherwise middling adaptation, the major achievement of this TV film was a touching departure scene. One of the ways I measure chemistry between actors playing Jane and Rochester is by using Rochester's own analogy of the string that binds he and Jane together. The best feeling is being able to trace that invisible string in how the actors respond to each other and move together as Jane and Rochester. In this adaptation, Scott's urgent, "Jane, wait!" gives me that feeling. The score by John Williams also boosts the intensity. 

The Bad: Overall, this adaptation is unspectacular and only mildly faithful. York is too old to accurately portray Jane's inexperience. Scott's take on Rochester doesn't reveal anything new or particularly engaging about the character, rarely making the audience believe that he is Rochester. Jane Eyre 1970 may be touching at points, but it isn't especially remarkable overall. 

Grade: C(-)

6. Jane Eyre 1996, starring Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane and William Hurt as Mr. Rochester

1996.jpg

The Good: Charlotte Gainsbourg is another actress who matches Jane aesthetically, albeit in a different way from Samantha Morton. Gainsbourg is young and doe-like, but she wears the calm and collected mask of someone who has learned how to toughen up and make it alone. Across from her, Hurt delivers a melancholy and tender performance as Rochester. Together, the pair emphasizes Jane and Rochester's loneliness. This adaptation reminds us that Jane and Rochester are outcasts and exiles who find kinship and connection in each other. 

The Bad: The subdued take on Jane and Rochester is 1996's greatest strength and its worst weakness. Gainsbourg lacks the depth and experience to give the viewer a glimpse of the deep well of emotion beneath Jane's cool exterior. Hurt's performance straddles the line between melancholy and sleepy. The movie also rushes through the more intense moments, with the failed wedding, leaving scene, Jane's time with the Rivers family, and her return taking up less than forty-five minutes. This adaptation has some beautiful moments, but it's far from being the most faithful in either pacing or tone.

Grade: C(+) 

5. Jane Eyre 1943, starring Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as Mr. Rochester

1943.jpg

The Good: Robert Stevenson's 1943 adaptation of Jane Eyre is one of the only versions to properly capture the novel's gothic elements. The cinematography, sets, and score all emphasize the darkness of Lowood, Thornfield, and its inhabitants. Orson Welles might be my favorite Rochester, fitting both my physical idea of the character and showing Rochester's commanding, enigmatical, and even charming and tender sides in equal measure. Welles is a masterful voice actor, knowing just what to do to shift the tone as needed by adjusting his volume, inflections, and other dynamics. 

The Bad: One of the great trivia facts about this adaptation is that Welles insisted on top billing over Joan Fontaine, who played the titular character. Welles deserves this not only because his performance is so strong, but also because Fontaine's is rather weak. The stunning, well-known actress struggles to play the 'poor, obscure, plain and little' Jane Eyre. In general, Fontaine is too serene. While the leaving scene might be Welles' most dynamic moment, Fontaine's Jane barely seems to respond. In addition to playing Rochester, Welles was heavily involved in the direction and production of the film, leaving his stylistic mark that would come to represent film noir genre. This version is definitely worth a watch for cinema buffs and anyone interested in early film noir, but it doesn't do the best job of adapting the protagonist to the screen. 

Grade: B-

The following are the top tier of Jane Eyre Adaptations. 

4. Jane Eyre 1973 starring Sorcha Cusack as Jane and Michael Jayston as Mr. Rochester

1973.jpg

The Good: Despite the claims to the contrary by 1983 diehards, the 1973 Jane Eyre miniseries is the most faithful adaptation of the novel, neither adding or subtracting any details. While Orson Welles may be my personal favorite Rochester, Michael Jayston might be the actor that portrays the character most accurately. Jayston may not fit the bill physically, but few can match that simultaneously mercurial and infatuated smile Jayston's Rochester reserves only for Jane. Like her counterpart, Cusack is far from the most accurate physical representation of Jane, but she plays her character well, and her chemistry with Jayston is undeniable. Cusack and Jayston are at their best in all of the pre-proposal conversation scenes, performing perfectly the period in which Jane and Rochester are cautiously probing and testing the other, as well as the the couple's transition into an intimate and even flirtatious friendship/situationship. Cusack and Jayston's Jane and Rochester both comfort and challenge the other; they are clearly at ease around each other, and yet each is perplexed by their inability to decipher the other's true feelings. In my opinion, no other Jane/Rochester pairing tops those moments. 

The Bad: While the pre-proposal scenes are nearly perfect, Cusack and Jayston leave a bit to be desired in the proposal and departure scenes. Cusack and Jayston are at their best in portraying the informal, everyday interactions between Jane and Rochester, but they aren't as strong during the story's climaxes. This adaptation can also be a little too sedate, lacking the gothic elements and production values that might have placed it first. Unlike many, I appreciate Cusack's voiceovers as a window into Jane's thoughts and internal dialogue, but object to how they are performed--quaintly and lacking the feeling that would animate Jane's stream of consciousness.

Grade: B+

3. Jane Eyre 2006 starring Ruth Wilson as Jane and Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester

2006.jpg

The Good: Ruth Wilson is a nearly perfect casting and delivery, and the chemistry between her and Toby Stephens is something special. The great matching of Wilson's Jane and Stephens' Rochester is evident to anyone who watches the miniseries, but an underrated aspect of Jane Eyre 2006 is Ruth's chemistry with all the secondary characters as well, particularly Tom Buchan's St. John Rivers. This is perhaps the only adaptation where St. John is (1) humanized and (2) a credible rival to Rochester. While it's clear that Wilson's Jane doesn't have romantic feelings for Rivers, they have a different kind of chemistry: the chemistry of close friends and cousins who could conceivably build a successful and rather happy marriage. Jane considers this closely in the novel, almost agreeing to marry St. John, and yet almost none of the adaptations treat this like a serious possibility. St. John proposes, but the audience never feels for a moment that a marriage to St. John would be acceptable or even logical. In the 2006, we finally get to see a well-developed relationship between the two. 

The Bad: This is perhaps the most controversial adaptation, with a large community of critics alongside its devoted fandom. This is another case of an adaptation's strength doubling as its weakness. Jane Eyre 2006 attempts to capture the emotional core of the novel while translating the dialogue and characters to a younger audience. But the same modernization that makes the romantic chemistry between Jane and Rochester so palpable also prevents the actors from fully and faithfully inhabiting their characters. Stephens in particular fails to convince me that he is Rochester. I have had to learn not to conflate my love of looking at Toby Stephens and the (sexual) romanticism of the adaptation with an accurate representation of the characters and the relationship between Jane and Rochester. Wilson and Stephens work well together, and they offer a new and refreshing take on Jane and Rochester that looks like a relatable, twenty-first century relationship in period trappings. For fans, this is what places Jane Eyre 2006 near front of the pack. For Jane Eyre puritans, it also prevents the adaptation from claiming the top spot. 

Grade: B+

2. Jane Eyre 1983 starring Zelah Clarke as Jane and Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester

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The Good: This is a faithful, well cast, and well acted adaptation that balances faithfulness with a little added sexiness (mostly courtesy of Timothy Dalton). The small and plain, though too-old, Zelah Clarke portrays both Jane's maturity and her girlishness and inexperience. Across her, Dalton shows all the facets of Rochester, being sardonic and self-important, moody and sentimental, fiery and passionate. Though the age disparity between Jane and Rochester isn't portrayed, the performances and the size difference between the actors do enough to convince the audience of Rochester's "century's advance in experience." The 1983 is a daunting eleven episodes long, and yet Clarke, particularly with the help of Dalton, keeps the viewer engaged throughout. Like the 1973, the adaptation pays close attention to the early moments and slow-simmering relationship with Jane and Rochester. Yet, the 1983 does better at nailing the relationship's climaxes, producing positively heartrending proposal, leaving, and reunion scenes. 

The Bad: Because the adaptation is so faithful in general, the points at which it veers away from the source material are particularly perplexing (all the more because they seem so unnecessary). What was the purpose of beginning the proposal scene inside? Why write in a moment in the reunion scene where Rochester gets angry at Jane's perceived 'pity' and sends her away? Lastly, Clarke and Dalton are strong throughout, but subdued tone of the final scene, the second proposal, contrasts with the emotion and intensity that the pair built throughout the miniseries. 

Grade: A(-)

1. Jane Eyre 2011 starring Mia Wasikowska as Jane and Michael Fassbender as Mr. Rochester

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The Good: The 2011 Jane Eyre shows how good performances combined with high production values can produce a great adaptation even under seemingly impossible time constraints. While it isn't perfect, I rank this adaption first because it does the best job of capturing the feeling and content of the book as a whole, including details like the novel's gothic elements, the age difference between the protagonists, and even the viewpoint of the story from Jane's perspective (without voiceovers, I might add). Aided by intentional and strategic writing, Mia Wasikowska is a great Jane. She embodies Rochester's description of her: "Your garb and manner were restricted by rule . . . yet when addressed, you lifted a keen, a daring, and a glowing eye to your interlocutor’s face: there was penetration and power in each glance you gave." Wasikowska's looks cut deep, and thanks to some spectacular writing her Jane has a natural talent for challenging Rochester through her ability to know exactly what to say at the right time without trying. Like his counterpart, Fassbender's Rochester gets help from good writing. While he isn't the best physical representation of the character, he summarizes Rochester well in the given time and showcases a beautiful relationship with Jane without overpowering her. The 2011 accurately captures Jane Eyre as Jane's story. When the camera isn't on her, it is viewing the world from her perspective or moving through her memories through the use of flashback. 

The Bad: Not enough time!! Had this film been a miniseries, it might have been the definitive adaptation. Alas, the actors and filmmakers were charged with the task of packing a 400+ page book into less than two hours. The inevitable consequence is the sacrifice of some important details and nuances, particularly Grace Poole's role in the story, the careful development of intimacy between Jane and Rochester, and Jane's complicated relationship with St. John. Jane Eyre 2011 isn't perfect by any means, nor is it necessarily my favorite adaptation, but it is the one I suggest to first-timers because it does the best job of using every tool at its disposal--casting, writing, visuals, and sound--to present a complex and multifaceted book to viewers. 

Grade: A(-) 

Conclusion

There is no perfect or even definitive Jane Eyre adaptation. Each brings something to the table that others do not, or fails to represent a facet or portion of the novel that others may highlight. I look forward to re-doing other rankings that allow me to focus on particular aspects of the adaptations, because to evaluate the adaptations as a whole in relationship to the complete novel is entirely too difficult.