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Jane Eyre (1997)


Warning: screenonline full synopses contain 'spoilers' which give away key plot points. Don't read on if you don't want to know the ending!

Ten-year-old orphan Jane Eyre is punished for defending herself from her older cousin, John, and locked in the 'Red Room' (where her uncle died) by her Aunt Reed. She imagines seeing and hearing ghosts, and screams to be let out. Later, she is taken to meet the owner of Lowood School. After being admonished for being a liar, she is enrolled in his school. She finds the conditions harsh, but befriends Helen (who later dies from Typhus) and a teacher, Miss Temple. During her eight years at Lowood she becomes a teacher, and places an advert for a governess place. She receives one reply.

Jane arrives as Thornfield House and meets the housekeeper, Mrs Fairfax, and her charge, a young French girl, Adele, ward of the absent Mr Rochester. Unpacking in her room, Jane hears loud laughing, but this is blamed on a servant, Grace Poole. She hears this laughter frequently over the following months.

Months pass, and while walking in the woods she is startled by a horse and rider crossing the river. The horse throws the rider, and she helps him out of the river, but he blames her for the fall. Back at Thornfield, she discovers that the man is the long-absent Mr Rochester. That evening, Jane is summoned, with Adele, to the drawing room after dinner. Over the ensuing weeks, they meet regularly, and she learns more about Adele's mother (an opera singer), and they discuss love.

One night, Jane hears laughing and discovers smoke coming out of Mr Rochester's room, caused by his bedclothes being set on fire. She rescues him and he calls her his angel, but his affection frightens her and she flees. Next morning he leaves to spend time at a nearby estate with the Ingrams, who later stay at Thornfield.

Seeing Mr Rochester frequently with Blanche Ingram, Jane realises that she loves him. He orders her to be in the drawing room every night while they have company and she unhappily complies. Mr Mason, from Jamaica, arrives. That night, Jane hears cries and Mr Rochester asks for her help. Grace Poole has attacked Mr Mason, and Jane stays with him while Mr Rochester goes for a doctor. She asks him to arrange for Grace Poole to be moved safely away from Thornfield, but he makes excuses.

The next day, Mr Rochester chides her for flaunting convention and making mistakes, but she ignores his hints of love for her, so he teases her that he is to marry Blanche Ingram. Aunt Reed's maid, Bessie, tells Jane that her Aunt is dying, and Mr Rochester grants her a week to visit her. Four weeks later, she returns to Thornfield, expecting him to be married. He is cross, and teases her that he has found a new place for her in Ireland. Finally, seeing her distress, he asks her to marry him, and she agrees.

On the morning of their wedding, she finds her bridal veil torn and challenges him about Grace Poole, but he is evasive. Just before the wedding, Mr Mason arrives and informs the congregation that Mr Rochester is already married to his sister, Bertha Mason, who is imprisoned in the attic, mad and looked after by Grace Poole. Rochester implores Jane to stay, suggesting that they go abroad, but she leaves.

Lacking financial resources, she ends up weak and unconscious on the moor, where she is discovered by St John. She stays with him and his sister Diana for several months, recovering, then teaches at the local school. St John asks her to marry him and accompany him as a missionary to India, but she refuses, knowing that he doesn't love her. That night she imagines that she hears Mr Rochester crying for help, and leaves immediately to see him. She finds Thornfield a burnt ruin. Mrs Rochester, she learns, set the house on fire and jumped to her death and Mr Rochester was injured trying to save her, losing his sight and the use of his hand. She goes to him, taunting him with St John's proposal, before promising to never leave him and become his wife. They have children and he regains the sight in one eye.