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Ten Reasons to Watch the 1983 Jane Eyre Adaptation

Ten Reasons to Watch the 1983 Jane Eyre Adaptation


Jane Eyre coverMost likely if you love costume drama then you’ve seen some adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s classic Jane Eyre about the tortured Rochester and the impassioned Jane.

If you are completely new to the story of Jane Eyre, it’s about a young girl (Jane) who is raised by her cruel aunt because she was orphaned as a baby. When she’s ten she’s sent off to the horrific atmosphere of Lowood school until she’s able to leave at eighteen by advertising for a position as a governess. It’s then she moves to Thornfield and meets the mysterious master of the hall, Mr. Rochester. They have a deep, soul connection and fall in love. But with secrets at every corner and a foreboding sense of doom, will they be able to be together?

RELATED Jane Eyre (2006) Tenth-anniversary Review – The Definitive Adaptation?

The novel, published by Bronte in 1847, quickly became a success and has since gone on to be adapted into film or television over 30 times. The first adaptation appeared not soon after the introduction of film itself in 1910. And the adaptations haven’t stopped coming since.

With all of the adaptations out there, which ones are the best to watch? No doubt there are some interpretations better than others. I’m just going to focus on the more current ones for now (I already feel another blog post about the best Jane Eyre adaptations coming…)

Most recently there’s the 2011 film with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender which brought a gothic horror style to the story; before that the unforgettable 2006 version with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson. Then there are the two ’90s adaptations, one of which showcased Anna Paquin as a young Jane.

That said, in modern day it’s easy to overlook the 1983 BBC miniseries when you have Toby Stephens or Michael Fassbender to choose from. Even I didn’t bother to watch it for a while. But I have since atoned for the error of my ways.

Rochester and Jane in Jane Eyre 1983

Mr. Edward Rochester (Timothy Dalton) and Jane Eyre (Zelah Clarke)
Photo: BBC

So without further ado, here are ten reasons the 1983 adaptation should be revisited:

#1 Timothy Dalton.

With his brooding performance and deep understanding of how to play a Byronic Hero, he’s the perfect Rochester. He’s quite often overlooked in performances. He’s typically forgotten as James Bond for instance, even though he brought a similar type of performance (a serious world-weary man who may quit the service at any time; in fact, he may be the closest to the character’s original intent in the books) as Daniel Craig…just 20 years earlier. He does the same with Rochester. Dalton understands the character as intended by Bronte, and that makes watching this adaptation worth it.

#2 Zelah Clark as Jane.

Sure, I think it may be impossible to top what I believe to be the quintessential performance of Jane Eyre by Ruth Wilson, but Zelah does a fine job as well. She understands how to portray an introvert. She keeps her face stoical, so it becomes all the more surprising when she suddenly has an impassioned response to a situation. You can sense the deep emotions brewing inside a girl who has had to learn to keep her feelings to herself so as not to be beaten (even though it is her true nature to be passionate). What I also like about Zelah’s performance is that she portrays the faults of Jane as well as her strengths. The director and screenwriter were brave enough to showcase some of Jane’s faults which Charlotte would have been very happy with (she disliked that everyone turned Jane into a saint).

#3 There are eleven episodes.

What does that mean exactly? It means there’s ample time to cover what is in the book. There are even a few new scenes at that (not all of them work mind you, but most of them are interesting anyway). More likely than not you will get to see some of your favorite scenes from the book.

#4 The second episode at Lowood School.

Because of the long running time of the series, there was plenty of time to explore Jane’s experiences there. We get to know her tragic best friend, Helen Burns and her inspiring teacher, Miss Temple. We see the ups and we definitely see the downs. It’s also quite enjoyable to watch the impassioned young Jane react to the almost “passive” reactions of the abused Helen. This episode reminds me of an Anne Shirley spectacle, that is if she was brought to a horrible school instead of to the loving Matthew and Marilla. Most adaptations don’t have the time to show scenes from the book here. But this adaptation does, which again makes it worth watching.

#5 Did I mention Timothy Dalton?

Seriously, though, he was born to play this role. He’s tall, dark and rugged and the best looking Rochester of any adaptation. With his melodic Welsh voice and soulful eyes, it’s hard not to be drawn into his performance. Some people argue he’s too good looking for the role. But let’s be clear, in the novel, Mr. Rochester is not described as ugly. He’s described as rugged with “deep eyes.” He’s defined as not being beautiful…at least “according to rule.” Perhaps in that time period, a more feminine gentlemanly image was considered as handsome. That said, even if Timothy Dalton is “too” handsome I think we can forgive him that “fault.”

#6 Which brings me to my next point…this adaptation had the guts (obviously Timothy Dalton was willing to do it) to have Mr. Rochester dress up as an old gypsy woman in a famous game-playing scene from the novel.

Most versions haven’t even tried, thinking it too difficult to portray. But Dalton pulls it off. The point of the scene is to read the fortunes of all his wealthy female guests (who he finds to be cruel) and ultimately Jane to draw out her feelings for him. She won’t have any of the nonsense, but at least it was good fun for Rochester. Timothy Dalton literally dressed up in female clothes and disguised his voice as an old woman. Even the fantastic 2006 adaptation didn’t do it. Because of this scene, I give the production an extra point.

#7 It’s romantic.

As soon as Mr. Rochester enters the series, it becomes an entertaining gothic spectacle. The two actors have chemistry, with Dalton exuding a passion that matches Jane’s inner impassioned nature. He sizzles on screen and shows the true rage of a Byronic struggling with inner demons. The proposal scene is great. The director chose to film it in the dark, which is a very interesting choice. It foreshadows the doom of the proposal, while also presenting Jane’s true feelings and Rochester’s intense, almost obsessive love for her. This series is at its best when it’s being romantic. It’s stylized for sure, like classic films…just in the ’80s and in color.

#8 Beauty and the Beast

What I mean by that, is that the screenwriter and director understood Bronte’s purposeful intent to compare this to the fairy tale. Rochester will have her in the drawing room every night at the same time, just like the Beast requesting Beauty for dinner every night. At the end, when Jane reunites with Rochester, archetypal themes of Beauty and the Beast clearly appear. The shots focus on Jane lovingly touching the face of the now outwardly ‘beastly’ Rochester. With Jane Eyre, it’s all about the deep soul connection, not the outward appearance.

#9 The love story of St. John and Miss Oliver.

It’s easy to overlook this story that works as a foil to the love story of Jane and Rochester. But it’s very important in the novel. St. John is the opposite of Jane and refuses to follow his heart. He loves Rosamond Oliver, but cannot be with her because she (in his mind) would not be suitable as a wife. Just about every adaptation ignores this whole side story but not this one. They understand the importance of it. The 2006 version also visited it, but I would argue that the 1983 adaptation has a better St. John that more clearly presents the themes Bronte was going for.

#10 Oh…and Timothy Dalton.

Well, that about wraps it up! If I haven’t convinced you yet to watch the 1983 adaptation, let me point out I think Timothy Dalton is every bit as good as Toby Stephens from the 2006 miniseries (which I never thought I’d say), and perhaps even a little bit closer to the character in the book. While Toby plays off the sarcasm with great skill (with no two actors having matched the chemistry between him and Ruth Wilson), Dalton understands how to capture the true essence of a Byronic.

Timothy Dalton is no doubt one of the quintessential actors of Byronic Heroes (Aidan Turner is on the up and up and plays the fantastic Byronic Mitchell from BBC’s Being Human. You can read about him as a rising star here). No one plays brooding and tortured better than he does. If any actor wants tips on how to play one, they need to look no further than Timothy Dalton.

Now don’t get me wrong, it’s not a perfect production. There is at times a touch of melodrama, particularly in the first episode, and no doubt some will find it old-fashioned, but when you look at it as a whole it is quite fantastic.

For those who have Netflix, it’s free to watch now (Update: It’s no longer available). If not, you can buy it off of Amazon.

Buy on Amazon below. (This is an affiliate link, which means that if you click on this product and buy, we’ll receive a small commission.)

Have you seen the 1983 adaptation? What did you think? If you had to pick the best adaptation of Jane Eyre from what you’ve seen, which one would you choose? Sound off below…

RELATED:

If you like Gothic, historical novels check out our review of Born of Persuasion by Jessica Dotta.

 


About The Author

Amber Topping

A lover of stories in all forms and from all cultures and time periods, Amber honed her own storytelling skills as a girl by doing Shirley Temple impersonations and putting on plays with her siblings. Eventually, she turned to cheerleading, dance, and finally to writing and video editing. Amber is an empathetic and impassioned person with a strong independent will and an endless amount of creativity. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, and has contributed to various magazines. Her ultimate dream is to be a published author of books, screenplays, travel all over the world, and to form a creative village of talented storytellers from around the world who can collaborate together to produce stories celebrating old-fashioned romance and diverse storytelling. She believes stories have the positive power to unite, not divide.

29 Comments

  1. Julianna Rowe

    I LOVE the 1983 adaption of Jane Eyre above all other versions…I agree completely. It is one of my very favorite movies and shall remain so..:)

    Reply
    • silvervintage

      It really is fantastic and is definitely a favorite of mine as well! Timothy Dalton IS Rochester.

      Reply
  2. Julie

    I think 83 is definitely the best version! I love it because I believe completely in characters created by Dalton and Zelah… They are just as I imagined them while reading the book. And Zelah’s Jane is the nicest!

    Reply
    • Amber Topping

      The 83 version is completely underrated and absolutely fantastic. I think it ties for me personally with the 2006 version. Although Dalton may be my favorite Rochester.

      Reply
      • Caroline

        I absolutely agree with your reason number 1, 5 an d 10. Timothy Dalton is totally mesmerising; it
        must be those eyes. My heart flutters
        each time he appears and I would giggle
        each time I watch a scene of Mr Rochester and Jane.

        Reply
  3. JaneEyre.net

    If time is no barrier – and if you don’t mind the non-glossy, stage-play feel – this version has much to offer. I’m less enamored of Dalton’s Rochester than you, and some false notes are introduced into the plot and dialogue, but it’s a winner overall. Please see my full reviews of this and nine other Jane Eyre film versions at http://JaneEyre.net.

    Reply
  4. Suze

    Having read the book in my teens and seen every movie version, I think it’s safe to say I am a huge fan of Jane Eyre and it never gets old. If they come out with ten more movie versions, I am sure I’d want to see them all.
    I saw the Timothy Dalton version many years ago, it was the first movie version I saw. I have to say that he is the most perfect Mr. Rochester–he embodies the character like I don’t think anyone else will match. Except for his looks, it’s like he came straight out of the book. That being said, I compare every other version to it, never expecting them to do it justice. But unlike some who only have one favorite, I really think each version brings something unique to the table. Although Timothy Dalton IS Mr. Rochester, I really like Ciaran Hinds rendition. He is passionate and a bit scary like one might imagine. It seems some are turned off by how gruff he is, but I happen to like it. I also love Samantha Morton as Jane. She is slightly more playful than most Jane Eyres. As far as the 2011 version, Michael Fassbender is also great. In an understated way, he also captures the moodiness, and the passion he exudes in the scene in which Jane is leaving is one of the best! The Toby Stephens version is definitely a good one although a little too dumbed down in my humble opinion. Still good though and again, he also does a good job as Mr. Rochester and she as Jane.
    I say all that to say that after seeing the excellent 1983 version, I never expect to like new ones, yet I like almost every one. The only one I can’t stand is the 1996 version with Wiliam Hurt. He really showed his lack of acting skills, as he was not able to portray Mr. Rochester with any depth or passion. He was stiff and one-dimensional and not sexy at all. And that is just my 2 cents. 🙂

    Reply
    • Amina

      Toby Stevens had his moments, (he was moodier in his role in The Great Gatsby) but his Rochester was too playful and flirty. He was probably picked because he was Gilbert Markham in Anne Bronte’s ‘The Tenant of Wildfell Hall’. Timothy Dalton played Heathcliff in a version of ‘Wuthering Heights’ 10 years before ‘Jane Eyre’- he played two moody and complex men very, very well!
      I agree with you about William Hurt in the 1996 version, he was mostly emotionless and stiff-I was very disappointed. Forget Ciaran Hinds in the 1997 one! His Rochester was TOO angry, though I liked his gruff affection towards Adele. The ultimate Rochester and Jane was Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke.

      Reply
      • Beth Heinecamp

        I loved Zelah Clarke too. Jane was not an average woman of that time. She was extremely intelligent and passionate, yet bound by convention in more ways than one. Zelah must have been picked by the director (or whomever) because she could portray that kind of woman, a woman of substance and depth, not just a semi-attractive face with pretty eyes.

        Reply
        • Amina

          Exactly

          Reply
  5. sheila smith

    I have always adored Timothy Dalton obviously for his looks but his acting skills are also second to none and in this version of Jane Eyre his acting stands out!….but for me I just personally think he is too handsome to be Mr Rochester,and the one actor who has not been mentioned on this discussion who played Rochester is George C Scott and Susannah York played Jane, Scott I though was a very good Rochester because he was not handsome and appeared much older than Jane!

    Reply
  6. Toni Michelle O'Steen

    If you haven’t checked out the 1973 version of Jane Eyre with Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston, it is also fantastic. It’s five (I believe) episodes long, so they have the time to explore the book and include scenes that may have been left out in other productions. It’s one of my top two adaptations of this beloved book.

    Reply
  7. Mab, Queen of the Unseelie

    Love, love, LOVE this version of Jane Eyre. I do agree, Timothy Dalton IS Rochester to a T.

    Reply
    • Amber Topping

      Thanks for your comment! Yeah, he really is a fantastic Rochester.

      Reply
  8. Hamlette

    This is not only my favorite adaptation that I have seen so far, but also the one that captures the spirit of the book the best. While Dalton is very likely too handsome to play the part, he captures Rochester’s character perfectly. And Zelah Clarke also perfectly blends passivity, spunk, passion, and reserve — only Ruth Wilson has rivaled her thus far, in my opinion.

    Excellent review! Thank you for highlighting this sometimes forgotten adaptation.

    Reply
  9. BadWolf1138

    I’m glad you mentioned St. John and Rosamond. So many versions just leave most of Jane’s cottage stay out. Actually, I’d go further and say that St. John shows what an actual villain is compared to Rochester. NO WHERE does Rochester belittle Jane as a person or abuse her the way St. John does. To go so far as to say “You are a bad Christian and will go to hell if you don’t marry me and have my children” is one of the most despicable examples of emotional abuse in literature.

    Reply
  10. Deedee

    1983 version is the best adaption. Timothy is such a handsome Mr Rochester. I wish Jane is a bit taller. But her acting is great.

    Reply
  11. Anna

    This is my favourite adaptation, despite its flaws. I do love the one with Toby Stephens & Ruth Wilson, as well as the one with Mia Wasikowska & Michael Fassbender (though in that one it bugs me to no end that they didn’t give Jane her blood family; it’s such a huge theme in the book!), but this one swept me off my feet when I first borrowed it from the library years ago and it still does. Timothy Dalton is now and forever the PERFECT Rochester. *drops mic*

    Reply
  12. Aneesha

    Yeah, dalton definitely seems like the typical James Bond type.

    Reply
  13. Aneesha

    And amazing blog by the way

    Reply
  14. guizmo

    for me and the 1983 adaption was the best….so, they take an actor so sexy , and that was before james bond for timothy dalton, but sorry i love it, timothy dalton was terribly sexy (mr rochester wasn’t sexy, it’s the unique difference with the book), this version is more complete

    Reply
  15. Amina

    The 1983 version was the first adaptation of Jane Eyre I ever watched, it actually introduced me to the book itself. I was a child of 10 when it first aired in my country and I bought the DVD online 3 years ago. I have seen other adapations over the years and my favorite remains this one! My reasons…
    1. It was faithful to the book.
    2. Timothy Dalton and Zelah Clarke’s performances, they captured Rochester and Jane’s personalities very very well. P.S Dalton played Emily Bronte’s Wuthering Heights some years before ‘Jane Eyre’,so he was the perfect choice!
    As for Zelah Clarke, what a pity she didn’t get a lot more roles, she was the perfect Jane and anytime I read the book, I always picture her. I loved her more as Jane Eyre than as Susan Nipper in the only BBC adaptation of Dickens’ ‘Dombey and Son.’

    Reply
    • Amber Topping

      I love it too for all the reasons you do! It truly is a fantastic adaptation. Thanks for your thoughts! And I’ll have to check out this Dombey and Son sometime.

      Reply
      • Amina

        *bowing* My pleasure, Jane Eyre is my favorite book. ‘Dombey and Son’ aired several years ago in my country the same period ‘Jane Eyre’ was but I don’t know if a DVD is out. But good luck, you will laugh at Zelah Clarke’s cockney accent!

        Reply
        • Amber Topping

          I will definitely keep my eye out for it. 🙂

          Reply
  16. Beth Heinecamp

    I SO agree with you! I bought this version of ‘Eyre’ years ago and I’m surprised the DVD hasn’t melted!! This is a complicated and long story, and the ’83 version at least does justice to that fact. These newer versions are more shallow, though visually very appealing in parts. There’s a certain elegance it has, which I’ve not found in other versions.

    Reply
  17. Umami Baby

    What a wonderful post! Knowing the book as I do, having studied it inside out since my teens, I can honestly say this version truly is the best! It is as true to the book as one could hope for, without all the annoying extra bits of the Toby Stephens version (WHY do they take such liberties), or the more “superficial” treatment of the Fassbender one (and hm, St John is *supposed* to be gorgeous..). Not only is everyone well cast, but scenes often left out were included with remarkable veracity — the charades/Bridewell scene, for instance, or Jane’s struggles after she runs away from Thornfield. But to me the crowning bit of the whole thing is, they *actually* refer to NEGUS! Negus is a sweet drink made with port and is in the book — I take it as the benchmark of an excellent Jane Eyre adaptation ^-^

    Reply
  18. Gabriela Zayas

    I love the 1983 version and also the 1973, who everybody forgets. Although it had a very poor production values, Michael Jayston as Rochester is superb. As much as I like Dalton’s Rochester, I think I prefer Jayston’s, because I found him less theatrical. His Jane is annoying, though gets better as the episode progress. Really, I think the real problem always has been the Janes until Ruth Wilson nailed her in that 2006 version, not as loyal to the book as many of us would wanted but with many values too. The 1973 version is now in Youtube.

    Reply

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