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Jane Eyre (1997)

Courtesy of ITV Global Entertainment Ltd

Main image of Jane Eyre (1997)
LWT/Arts & Entertainment Network for ITV, tx. 9/3/1997
110 mins, colour
DirectorRobert Young
ProducerGreg Brenman
AdaptationKay Mellor
From the novel byCharlotte Brontë
MusicRichard Harvey

Cast: Samantha Morton (Jane Eyre); Ciarán Hinds (Edward Rochester); Gemma Jones (Mrs Fairfax); Richard Hawley (Richard Mason); Abigail Cruttenden (Blanche Ingram); Richenda Carey (Lady Ingram)

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Jane Eyre, an orphan, is sent by her heartless Aunt Reed to a charity school to be educated. As a governess at Thornfield Hall she falls for the enigmatic Mr Rochester, but discovers that the house holds a dark secret.

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This 1997 adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's much-loved novel was scripted by Kay Mellor, then best known for the boldly contemporary popular drama Band of Gold (ITV, 1995-96); Jane Eyre, her 'favourite novel', has been her one foray into period drama during a career spanning over 20 years. While it's possible that Mellor's northern background attracted her (the novel's setting is assumed to be Yorkshire, like much of Mellor's work), it's just as likely that she was chosen for her penchant for strong female characters and female-centred stories, and her ability to make the story relevant to a modern audience. Mellor's influence on the production extended to her suggesting her Band of Gold star Samantha Morton as the lead, and she herself plays a small role.

Mellor employs soap conventions to heighten the novel's gothic and melodramatic elements, thus much of the screen time is split between Jane and Mr Rochester's emotive conversations and the fear and suspense generated by the strange woman in the attic. The two-hour running time inevitably condenses the plot, and Jane's pre-Thornfield Hall existence (11 chapters) is reduced to ten minutes, while two significant sub-plots have been excised, perhaps to avoid overstretching the audiences' incredulity. Thus we lose the doubtful coincidence of Jane accidentally stumbling across her only living relatives in the shape of St John and Diana (in this adaptation they are not Jane's relations).

More regrettably, we lose all reference to Jane's rich, Jamaica-residing uncle, who just happens to know Mr Mason and warns him about the upcoming nuptials, and who later leaves his fortune to Jane. Though the prospect of Jane's independence would have seemed vital to Charlotte Brontë (who was, like Jane, a clergyman's daughter and governess), Mellor perhaps felt that Jane's becoming Rochester's financial and social equal would be irrelevant to modern audiences.

The key focus of the adaptation is the way Rochester and Jane become emotionally rather than socially worthy of one another. Following romantic novel and film convention, Mellor increases the conflict in the couple's first meetings to increase the dramatic impact when their mutual dislike turns to love. She also uses the novel's jealousy themes to create suspense: while Jane's feelings are made explicit through a voiceover (conveying the novel's first-person narrative), Ciarán Hinds' fierce interpretation of Rochester means that his feelings remain an enigma for much of the film, increasing the audience's pleasure in their eventual revelation.

Louise Watson

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Video Clips
1. Meeting Mr Rochester (3:44)
2. The proposal (3:37)
3. The madwoman in the attic (3:49)