A classic piece of British literature is revitalised by talented American director Cary Fukunaga, who marshals captivating performances from his stellar cast. Fans of the Charlotte Brontë novel will be pleased to hear that it doesn't deviate too far from her work, but it does deliver the tale with a voice all of its own.
Cary Fukunaga has been marked as a director to watch since his feature debut 'Sin Nombre' blew audiences away at Sundance in 2009, and now he turns his talents to one of British literature's finest works. But how will his bright, vibrant and intense style mix with the bleak, gothic world of 'Jane Eyre'?
After losing her parents to typhus, young Jane Eyre (Amelia Clarkson) is entrusted to the household of her aunt, Sarah Reed (Sally Hawkins), who dislikes Jane intensely. After an incident involving Jane, her abusive cousin, and a terrifying vision, she is sent a boarding school to be taught discipline.
After several years of strict tuition, and a further tragedy in her young life, Jane (Mia Wasikowska) finally graduates, and finds work as a governess at Thornfield Hall. There she is to educate the young, French-speaking charge of the mansion's master, Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbender).
The mysterious, Byronic lord of the manor is intrigued by his reserved governess, somehow sensing her fiery inner world. And as he appears to inch closer and closer to breaking social convention and embarking on a romance she almost dares to believe it can happen: until a dark secret emerges and Jane Eyre's world is shattered once more.
It's a tale that has been made so many times, and so well, before that it begs the question - why make another?
Fukunaga answers this question with a powerful version that amps up the gothic feel of the story and draws powerhouse performances from every key role, and many of the supporting ones too. All of this while remaining faithful, with the exception of a flashback or two, to the plot of the novel.
Jane Eyre is a downtrodden girl who dares to dream of more than her troubled existence could ever have afforded her, and the temptation could be to over-dramatise her role. But Mia Wasikowska delivers a reserved performance and imbues it with the details and flourishes necessary to capture her complexity without ever descending to melodrama. And it is utterly captivating.
Similarly carefully performed is Michael Fassbender's Rochester, who vacillates unnervingly between his brooding, morose intensity and his wild, passionate outbursts.
And the two performances are so perfectly matched that the abridged version Fukunaga necessarily had to bring to the screen never dulls the connection which is forged between these two unique characters.
Around their central story, a host of supporting characters play their part perfectly. Dame Judi Dench is, as expected, ideal for the part of warm, kind and simple housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, while Jamie Bell is composed, calm and cold as St. John Rivers, creating the perfect contrast to the manic extremes of Rochester.
Equally extreme are the stunningly captured British countryside and, of course, Thornfield.
Fukunaga, himself a former cinematographer, seems to have an instinctive sense of the potential of his surroundings, and illustrates this with aplomb in his dark, powerful and often awe-inspiring shots of the moors and dales of Yorkshire and Derbyshire. So jaw-dropping is his work that it makes you wonder why British filmmakers so rarely manage to capture this stunning vistas effectively.
By the end of Jane's journey, this talented cast and their moody environs will have you tied in emotional knots: just as Charlotte intended.
Fukunaga is an increasingly impressive force in cinema, and his talents have brought a uniquely dark, intense, Gothic quality to 'Jane Eyre', and produced compelling film of the highest calibre.
'Jane Eyre' is due to be released in the UK on 9 September. Certificate: PG.