JE97 stars Ciarán Hinds as Rochester and Samantha Morton as Jane. It also features Gemma Jones as Mrs. Fairfax, Rupert Penry-Jones as St John Rivers and Elizabeth Garvie as Diana Rivers. It is a made-for-TV movie that is only 108 minutes long, meaning it is shorter than JE96 (112 minutes) which was a feature film. I saw it when it first aired on US television, and rather liked it, but couldn’t get rid of the nagging feeling that something was missing. So I re-read the book for the first time in ages, and realized just how much of the original story was indeed missing.
This adaptation has the unique distinction of starring one of my favorite actors and one of my least favorite actors. It’s no secret that I am a big fan of Ciarán Hinds and his work. On the other hand, however, I am absolutely not a fan of Samantha Morton. I disliked her as Sophie Western in Tom Jones and I disliked her as Harriet Smith in the Beckinsale Emma. I’ve also seen her in a couple of smaller roles, and I wasn’t impressed with her in those, either. This was the first time I’d seen the movie in more than 10 years, so I could definitely go into this with an open mind.
The film opens pretty much the same way that JE96 did, with Jane being thrown into the Red Room. Her visit lasts a little bit longer in this adaptation, but not much, because we meet Mr. Brocklehurst almost immediately afterwards. He is very, very loud. There is a lot of voice over in this version, but I can’t find much of it in the book which, to me at least, sort of defeats the purpose.
Lowood is appropriately bad, and they spend more time on the deaths from typhus than we have seen in the past. Helen does not have consumption in this version; she, too, dies of typhus. And, once again, her strong Christian faith has been watered down considerably.
Shortly afterwards, we see Jane preparing to leave Lowood and go to Thornfield. I like Gemma Jones in pretty much everything, and she’s quite good here as Mrs. Fairfax. Jane and Edward meet on a misty pathway — which is how I’ve always pictured their meeting but have very rarely seen it in the adaptations. Ciarán Hinds is not a conventionally handsome man to begin with, but I have to say that he actually looks better as Edward than he has in some of his other roles. Unfortunately, however, he yells. A lot.
Samantha Morton’s Jane is sufficiently plain, but she just isn’t Jane-like to me. She fluctuates between being too feisty and not feisty enough. When Edward tells her he’s going to marry Blanche, Jane tells him “I think you will be very happy.” I’ve scoured the book, and that line is simply not there.
To be honest, I never really see any chemistry between Edward and Jane. When the two of them are together, she hardly seems to look at him, and the kisses they share are very unappealing (not quite as guppy-like as we saw in P07, but still really ugly). Hinds’ Edward does have more charm and wit and charisma than other Edwards we’ve seen, but Morton’s Jane is essentially humorless (except for the made-up scene where Edward teases Jane about writing to Pilot). The writer butchered the “piece of string” speech to the point where it is no longer deeply moving. This is the only adaptation where Edward takes Jane shopping after their engagement, but for some reason they run into Blanche, who is just nasty to Jane.
The treatment of Bertha is far more sympathetic than we’ve seen in other adaptations. Edward holds her and kisses the top of her head in the scene where he’s brought Jane et al. to see her. Yes, I know that we treat the mentally ill with more compassion than we did back then, but this film takes place in the early 19th century, not in the late 20th.
As is the case in all of the shorter versions of the story, the ending is very, very rushed. The film is at least 90 minutes old before Jane leaves Thornfield. Rupert Penry-Jones is far and away the best-looking St John we’ve seen, and he’s actually age-appropriate, but he’s simply not cold enough. I don’t know if that’s the way the part was written, or how the director wanted him to play the part, or whatever, but he’s actually very sweet and very thoughtful. But Brontë’s St John is really not either. Elizabeth Garvie is a somewhat older than I’d always pictured Diana, but her role is even tinier than St John’s so I guess it doesn’t really matter. No, the Rivers siblings are not related to Jane, and there is no inheritance. Nor do we get to meet Rosamund.
The ending is abrupt. We see the Rochester family a few years later, complete with young children, and poof! it’s over.
All in all, I didn’t hate it. It’s better than JE96, but it’s still not as good as the other made-for-TV versions, including JE70, which is a very good example of doing more with less.