One of literature’s great classic romances, Jane Eyre is beautifully captured on film in the 1983 BBC miniseries. Timothy Dalton (prior to his more famous role of James Bond) and Zelah Clark are exceptional together – one of the best Jane Eyre and Mr. Rochester pairings I’ve seen. Zelah Clark, although she looks a good bit older than Jane’s 18, perfectly captures Jane’s spirit. Independence and intelligence, a sharp wit and a tongue to match, an iron will that borders on stubbornness, glimpses of a passionate nature, with just the right touch of whimsy and girlish innocence. Timothy Dalton’s Rochester, while still dark and brooding, is a bit more charming and funny than how he is traditionally portrayed on screen. Playing Edward Rochester is a balancing act; Dalton seems to have intuitively found the center of who Rochester is.
Despite a somewhat dated feel, this version of Jane Eyre is one of the best primarily because it stays true to the original material. The book is a long-standing classic for good reason, and the creators of this miniseries had sense enough not to deviate much from Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. All the points of the story remain the same, whole sections of dialogue are lifted straight from the book, and each actor completely inhabits his or her role. Perhaps the reason Jane Eyre has been translated into movies and TV series so many times is that, being primarily a dialogue-driven story, it lends itself well to the medium of film. Being a great story is another big reason of course.
The basic points of the story are well-known. Jane Eyre, a young orphan left to the care of an aunt, is cast off and sent to Lowood, a charity school. This venerable establishment is run by Mr. Brocklehurst, a grim, stern, disagreeable character who mistreats those unfortunate enough to come under his dangerously oppressive rule. After surviving 8 years at Lowood, our plucky heroine advertises, offering her services as a governess. Mrs. Fairfax, housekeeper at Thornfield, engages her to teach young Adele Varens, ward of Edward Rochester. Thus begins Jane’s life in the mysterious and sinister world of Thornfield. Jane and Rochester’s relationship slowly evolves from an uneasy trust, to respect and familiarity, to deep friendship, finally blossoming as true love. Torn apart by a cruel blow of fate, Jane leaves Thornfield, vowing never to return. How the story ends and what happens to Jane and Rochester – well, if you don’t already know, then I won’t give it away. Watch it for yourself; it will probably inspire you to read the book as well.