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Originally published March 17, 2011 at 3:02 PM | Page modified March 17, 2011 at 3:23 PM

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Movie review

'Jane Eyre': a glowing portrait of a tough-minded heroine

A review of Cary Joji Fukunaga's screen adaptation of Charlotte Brontë's "Jane Eyre."

Seattle Times movie critic

Movie review 3.5 stars

'Jane Eyre,' with Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbinder, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench. Directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga, from a screenplay by Moira Buffini, based on the novel by Charlotte Brontë. 121 minutes. Rated PG-13 for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content. Egyptian, Lincoln Square.

Some of us are "Jane Eyre" addicts, and the new movie version directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga gives us just the right fix. But those new to Charlotte Brontë's 1847 tale, about a tough- minded young governess who falls into a rabbit hole of love, might well find the makings of a new obsession in this quiet yet passionate film, which makes an often-told story feel fresh and breathless again.

Central to this movie's power is the performance of Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland") in the title role. Looking plain, pale, tightly controlled and heartbreakingly young (she's one of the few movie Janes who can easily pass for the heroine's age of 18), she lets us see the character's carefully hidden strength, her aching need for love, her dreams of a life bigger than what seems promised to her. "I've never seen a city," says this orphan, product of a hateful adoptive family and a hellish boarding school. "I've never spoken with men."

The man she speaks to is Edward Rochester (Michael Fassbinder), the dashing, mysterious master of remote Thornfield Hall, where Jane arrives for her first post-school position. Kindly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) soon notices, with worry, an attraction between the teenage governess and her employer; while strange happenings around Thornfield at night hint that something is terribly wrong. I'll say no more, so as not to spoil things for "Jane Eyre" virgins, but screenwriter Moira Buffini spins out the story elegantly and economically, faithful to the spirit of Brontë (much of the dialogue is directly from the book) while ruthlessly trimming the saga to a speedy two hours.

And yes, Janeites will miss much that has been trimmed; an argument could be made that a screen "Jane Eyre" is better suited to television, where the story can be told in a more leisurely fashion. (The recent four-hour BBC version, starring Ruth Wilson, is a lovely one.) But every key scene is here, glowing in beautifully rendered candlelight and shadows and mist, celebrating Brontë's poetic language and Wasikowska's soft-spoken fire. Look at how Jane fingers a piece of lace, or gazes at the first room that's ever seemed to welcome her — touches of beauty, in a life relentlessly plain, for a heroine who somehow knows that she deserves joy.

Moira Macdonald: 206-464-2725 or mmacdonald@seattletimes.com

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