I’ve just finished watching JE73, which stars Sorcha Cusack as Jane, Michael Jayston as Rochester and
Sable Colby, er, Stephanie Beacham as Blanche Ingram. It’s only been available on DVD for a few years, and I’d only seen it once before this viewing. I watched it with a couple of friends, so it’s a given that I didn’t pay as much attention as I could have. Before its release on DVD, I’d heard from several people on both sides of the Atlantic about how this was the “Holy Grail” of JE adaptations, so I was very excited to see it when it finally came out.
It’s a given that the production values are bad, but as we know, I am generally capable of taking those in stride. So here we have rooms that are lit too well, hair that doesn’t move and sets that are cheesy. As long as the script and the acting are good, I’m fine. One thing I did notice, however, is that Thornfield looked very familiar. I couldn’t stop thinking that it looked like Pemberley from P&P80. So I visited IMDb and proved myself right — the exterior of Thornfield was played by Renishaw Hall in Derbyshire, and is indeed the same house that was used as Pemberley in P&P80.
The series has 5 episodes of approximately 50 minutes each. The first episode is almost exclusively devoted to Jane’s childhood, meaning that this is the first adaptation so far that actually gives us a good look at Jane’s childhood. We see the girls shivering in the cold and dying from typhus. The board sees how awful the conditions are and they tell Brockelhurst that his services are no longer needed as superintendent, or whatever position he held that put him in charge. We also see how pious Helen is and how she almost scolds Jane for not putting enough faith in God. All in all, it’s very well done, and I’m glad that, after 3 adaptations, we get to see it.
In episode 2, we get to meet Mrs. Fairfax, Adèle (whose French accent is good; going by her name – Isabelle Rosin — she may even be French), Sophie (this is a first!), Grace Poole and, of course, Mr. Rochester. Mrs. Fairfax is appropriately ditzy, Adèle isn’t too annoying and Grace Poole is enigmatic (in the previous adaptations, we barely saw her, so it could be argued that Jane’s idea that Grace is the one laughing and setting fires has some merit). Mr. Rochester, however, is a very handsome man. He’s been handsome in every adaptation I’ve seen so far. If you’d never read the book, it would be hard to understand why, in every adaptation, the line where he asks Jane if she thinks him handsome has some of us giggling.
Stephanie Beacham is a very good Blanche Ingram. She is appropriately “superior” to Jane, and I liked watching her suck up to Edward (as an aside, one thing I learned here is that she was considerably younger as Sable Colby than I always thought she was). She’s not classically beautiful, but I do think she was a good Blanche.
When I first saw it, with a group of friends, we spent a lot of time making fun of Sorcha Cusack’s eyebrows. No matter what Ms. Cusack is saying or doing, her eyebrows seem to have a life of their own. They are perpetually in a state of surprise, and that’s a bit disconcerting. Other than that, there is a lot to like about this adaptation. The characters are true to the book, the story is very close to the original. This is the first adaptation that gives us the gypsy scene, which is good, and we also get to meet St. John, Diana and Mary Rivers and we learn that Jane is an heiress and the Rivers siblings are her cousins.
One rather (in my opinion) glaring omission is that we never meet or hear anything about Rosamund Oliver. She simply does not exist in this story. In the book, the existence of Rosamund shows us just how deeply St John is capable of loving, and it also shows us just how cold he can be by rejecting her love. To ignore Rosamund in an adaptation that is otherwise so faithful to the book just makes me scratch my head in confusion. I cannot figure out why they thought cutting her out was a good idea. Geoffrey Whitehead’s St John was 33 or 34 in when this was aired in 1973, but he looks even older than that (St John – in the book and in this script – is supposed to be 29) and he is not nearly as good-looking as the character is supposed to be. The script has Jane tell Edward how good-looking St John is, and I confess to having snickered at that line.
This is the first adaptation where Edward loses his hand in the fire, but one thing hasn’t changed: the blind Edward doesn’t blink. Is it because, when a sighted person blinks, their eyes automatically refocus and blind people’s eyes obviously can’t focus? I’m stumped. We also never hear Jane tell us that Edward was able to see his first-born. I miss that part and am not sure why they felt compelled to cut it out. There is a lot of voice-over in this production (which usually annoys me), but it does work here; I think it’s because the book is written in the first person and, with the voice-over, this emphasized (to me, at least) the autobiographical nature of the story.
I really liked this adaptation. It’s far and away the closest to the book of the 4 adaptations I’ve seen so far (I couldn’t watch 1970 because Netflix doesn’t have it and my copy is in storage — maybe someday I’ll get to see it again) and, once one overlooks the laughable production values (Jane’s costumes are particularly hilarious — especially towards the end, once she has money), one can see just how much substance there is. The performances are good, the script is good and it is an excellent re-telling of a beloved story. I highly recommend it.