This movie is based on the book of the same title, written by Charlotte Bronte, which was published in 1847, the same year that William Makepeace Thackeray published “Vanity Fair.”  (see my review of that movie starring Reese Witherspoon, 2004)  Like Vanity Fair’s Becky Sharp, Jane (Elliot) Eyre, (played by Mia Wasikowska), is a governess, but that is where the similarities end.  Eyre is not a manipulative social climber, but rather a girl who has had an equally tough beginning as Sharp.

Initially raised in affluence, Eyre is cast from that leisurely life when her parents and beloved uncle die, and she’s left in the care of an evil aunt (Mrs. Reed).  She’s put out by this aunt, and placed at a young age in a girl’s home with its strict, rigid code and corporeal punishment. As a young girl, Eyre is forced to endure something called the “Pedestal of Infamy” and isolation punishment for petty offenses.    She’s learning “how barren is the life of a sinner.”

Eyre is far more gentle and softer than Sharp, even with the cruelty of her girl’s home.  She doesn’t have Sharp’s physical beauty or cunning or quick wit; in fact, Eyre is thought to be “plain,” but her sweetness possesses a certain allure and she is fiercely intelligent.   Eyre is also a skilled artist.  She also has an ability to hear the wind whisper her name.  Cool.

St. John Rivers (played by Jamie Bell of “Billy Elliot” (2000) fame, although he’s all grown up here) runs a very humble parish, and Eyre is given a cottage and 15 pounds a year, which is quite sparse indeed.  Somehow, though, Eyre ends up with Mrs. Fairfax (played by Dame Judi Dench), house manager of a large estate called Thornfield Hall, owned by the dashing, wealthy and hot Edward Rochester (played by Michael Fassbender).  Eyre has been the governess of Thornfield Hall for about three months in his absence.

She doesn’t meet Rochester at the hall, but rather in the field, on a walk, while his spirited horse throws him in front of her.  Later he playfully accuses her of “bewitching” his horse.  Rochester doesn’t seem to take to Eyre right away – she’s like any of the help on his estate.  He can be rude, cruel, cold and controlling, but he does respect and reward loyalty.   Upon their meeting, Rochester asks Eyre:

What’s your tale of woe?  All governesses have a tale of woe.

Rochester has in residence a young girl who was left in his care.  Maybe he’s just bored with his life, but he does interact with Eyre – he also says he doesn’t want to treat her “inferior.”  He feels they should speak as equals.  At one point, he says he “envies her . . . openness and unpolluted mind.”

There’s a fire and a stabbing and a secret or two.

Lovely authentic costumes and set décor in shades of grays and muted tans and other earth tones.  I have seen several versions of this movie throughout the years, and each had their own attractiveness and draw.  I liked this movie due to the performances of Wasikowska and Fassbender – very believable and enjoyable to watch.

Is this a love story, or a tale of feminist empowerment (Rochester says to her “you are my equal and my likeness”), or a movie of indentured servitude?  You’ll have to rent it to see.

I do recommend.

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