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Monday, June 13, 2016

Jane Eyre 1956 - an early miniseries adaptation

Posted by Charlene // Tags: , ,

On my trip to England last month, I made a point of visiting the British Film Institute in London to see an early six-part (half-hour each) adaptation of Jane Eyre starring Daphne Slater and Stanley Baker.  Now, I'm definitely a purist when it comes to adaptations, and for an older adaptation, I was totally prepared to watch something over-the-top, overwrought and not very true to the story.  I was pleasantly surprised by this version however!  It was quite good!  There were a few stand-out aspects to the way the story was told, and I enjoyed Slater and Baker's interpretation of the characters.  I might have wished for a little more from them, but we can't always get what we want, haha.  For this post,  I'm going to go a little in depth with the whole adaptation, so this is another lengthy Jane Eyre-related post that I'm sure my blog does not have enough of!

The dialogue/script is a good jumping off point for my initial impression of the story.  It follows the general plot of the novel very well, but often veers off from using the actual dialogue in the book.  Which is interesting to me, because that can so easily go wrong, but in this case, I quite liked the script.  There were the odd missed moments - when it came to the more emotional scenes, it would have been nice to have Charlotte's beautiful words come into play, but the gist of the scenes, and the characters' emotions were there.



The childhood portion of the story strayed the most from the novel though.  Daphne Slater actually played Jane as a child, which was an interesting choice, but I think it worked rather well.  Slater was very good at capturing the essence of a child and is a bit on the shorter side, even if she doesn't actually look so much like a child.  Young Jane in this version is much more outspoken, especially with Mr. Brocklehurst, which was delightful to see.  There is a scene when Brocklehurst wants to take a switch to Jane's hand, and Jane does not have any of it!

Jane also is a great reader, and the fact that she loves to read is made a point in the story as it is Jane who says she reads so she is not 'caged in.'  A lovely character connection.

Helen Burns has an interesting change in this version.  She feels more like a partner in crime to Jane - much less of the overtly religious, self- sacrificing character, and more inclined to get into mischief with Jane.  Which made for a completely different dynamic, but one that I rather enjoyed as it highlighted Helen and Jane's close friendship.  They felt more like equals.  But Helen still dies.  And after her death, there is a quick time lapse to Jane as an adult and Miss Temple helping Jane to get a new job.  Miss Temple is a very motherly influence in this, and it's a little bittersweet how Jane leaves her behind - Miss Temple does not get married in this version, and it is stressed that Miss Temple stays to make sure the children are taken care of, in spite Brocklehurst's awful rules.  In a way Miss Temple takes a bit of novel-Helen's role in Jane's life.

Once we get to Thornfield, that strong and feisty Jane is muted somewhat, because adult Jane is easily frightened.  Granted Grace Poole is pretty ominous, as she openly stares at Jane, but there are more moments than I would have expected where Jane is easily startled.  It made her seem a bit ridiculous which I didn't like as much.  With adult Jane, I did miss a bit of what made young Jane so fiery, but Daphne Slater's delivery of Jane was still good, and in the banter with Rochester, she was able to hold her own.

Rochester in this version was not quite perfect, but Stanley Baker made a very imposing Rochester.  His Rochester is more brusque and rough throughout, but he can still speak all of wordy prose fantastically, and bring some nuance and emotion to them.  But to highlight the roughness of Rochester, it was interesting and a bit disturbing how they embellished him in the scene where he wants to give Jane some wedding gifts.  She refuses them, and he throws them down angrily and leaves the room.  Only to come back in and apologize.  But to this version's credit, I think that is the only moment where I thought his anger was completely out of place.  I did love that soon after that moment, when Jane asks Rochester if he really meant his proposal, Rochester deadpans "No, I didn't." as a joke.  Which was unexpected for the moment, and made me laugh.

Oh I should mention that this version included the Gypsy scene.  And it was a little different in that Jane was sort of fishing around for advice from the Gypsy if she should stay at Thornfield or leave (her line was "Does my happiness lie here or elsewhere?").  When the Gypsy tells Jane that he sees her love returned, Jane denies it vehemently, which was a little poignant.

And now I come to a part of the story that could have been glossed over, but was in fact stressed perfectly - the St. John Rivers part.  The other Rivers sisters weren't featured as much. but St. John in this was rather formidable.  Very cold, very controlling, and even though his philanthropic side was evident, he seemed a much more disturbing St. John than I've seen before.  It's interesting that this version decided to emphasize that about him.  It starts with St. John seeing Jane's drawing of Thornfield and urging her to throw it on the fire.  There's a scene later where Jane gets a letter (although she doesn't know it yet) and St. John gets upset.  Also he looks like he is going to open the letter, until he's interrupted.  He tries to make Jane forget about Rochester, first by calling her out on planning to write to him, and then by telling her that Mr. Rochester has already moved on.  Geez, St. John really wants to marry Jane I guess.

With the reunion scene, I felt it was very sweet.  Mr. Rochester was very much broken by Jane's absence, to the point where, when she goes out to get some wine, he starts clamoring for her, in fear that she has left him.  Stanley Baker doesn't look nearly as burned or damaged as he should, but the scenes were still lovely.

quick picture from the BFI screening room - reunion scene

For a miniseries, I found this a wonderful adaptation.  So many scenes and moments were included that I would not have expected, and the quality of the sets and camera work were good.  And the actors did a great job in their roles.  I hope this series will be released on DVD someday, I think many Jane Eyre fans would love it!

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