He had a dark face, with stern features and a heavy brow; his eyes and gathered eyebrows looked ireful and thwarted just now; he was past youth, but had not reached middle-age…
I knew my traveler with his broad and jetty eyebrows; his square forehead, made squarer by the horizontal sweep of his black hair. I recognized his decisive nose, more remarkable for character than beauty; his full nostrils denoting, I thought, choler; his grim mouth, chin, and jaw – yes, all three were very grim, and no mistake. His shape, now divested of cloak, I perceived harmonized in squareness with his physiognomy: I suppose it was a good figure in the athletic sense of the term – broad chested and thin flanked, though neither tall nor graceful.
Ah, Jane Eyre’s first impressions of Thornfield Hall’s master, Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester, as scribed by Charlotte Brontë in her masterpiece, Jane Eyre. Mr. Rochester’s heavy brow, stern grimness and broad squareness have captivated readers and viewers alike for the past 171 years.
Jane Eyre has inspired countless adaptations on the big and small screens, on the stage and the page and over the airwaves. Rewritings, retellings, reimaginings, reinterpretations abound, and through it all remains the enigmatic Mr. Rochester, the great love of our little Jane’s life.
So, I’ve decided to round up some of the many screen Rochesters through the years. Why? Yeah, for no particular reason other than just because. Just because Mr. Rochester is the volatile and tormented Byronic hero incarnate, whose grimness and darkness and dangerous appeal have been interpreted and portrayed by many fine (and, admittedly, not so fine) actors through the years.
So, here it is: my round-up of onscreen Rochesters. Just because.
A Round-Up of Rochesters
(In no particular order)
1. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Toby Stephens)
Jane Eyre (2006)
The sensual and perennially ironic Mr. Rochester with the curly auburn locks. Mr. Stephens’ Mr. Rochester is moody, teasing, quick-witted, prone to bouts of depressed reveries. There’s a dark and light playfulness to this Rochester. He charms and persuades very convincingly. Plus, he’s easy on the eyes.
2. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Timothy Dalton)
Jane Eyre (1983)
The magnetically mysterious Mr. Rochester. Mr. Dalton’s Mr. Rochester cuts a fine figure, looming over his little Jane, his green eyes piercing with wit, intelligence, self-reproach, and humor. There is just such a Byronic bad boy feel and appeal to this Rochester. And that cleft chin is, ahem, very alluring. Plus, he pulls off the gypsy woman dress-up scene, which scores points in my books.
3. Mr. Maximilian “Maxim” de Winter (Laurence Olivier)
The gothic Mr. Rochester-type with the villainous appeal. Mr. Olivier’s Mr. de Winter is all contradictions and duality, clefted like his chin, attentive and loving one moment, and callous and distant the next. Through it all, though, he remains so broodingly gorgeous that you’ll forgive him just about anything, maybe even murder.
4. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Patrick MacNee)
Jane Eyre (1957)
Ugh, the enigmatic, drunken lecher of a Mr. Rochester. Mr. MacNee’s Mr. Rochester is a broad-shouldered brute, a lout of a man, who’s been succoring his woe-is-me sorrows in the bottle. This is not a Rochester that we want our pure Jane to have anything to do with! Get out Jane, while you still can! Frisky, abusive alcoholics – their anguish and inner demons accentuated with kohl-lined eyes – are never that irresistible.
5. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Ciarán Hinds)
Jane Eyre (1997)
The blustery, raven-haired, mustachioed Mr. Rochester, whose bark is much worse than his bite. Mr. Hinds’ Mr. Rochester may bellow and commandeer, but those green eyes belie the gruff exterior. They are all vulnerability and sparkling hope. He’s a Rochester with a magnetism that both repels and attracts.
6. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Orson Welles)
Jane Eyre (1943)
The caped Rochester of the intense gaze. Mr. Welles’ Mr. Rochester is a strapping, intimidating baritone, a powerful presence standing in the shadows. He gazes intensely and earnestly, strides around dramatically with a cape flapping in his wake, and is a master of sardonic wit. Yet, he’s a gentle giant full of sincerity towards his dear, elfin Jane.
7. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Fassbender)
Jane Eyre (2011)
Ah, the broodingly sexy Mr. Rochester with the tight breeches. Mr. Fassbender’s Rochester is virility personified – passionate, forceful, sarcastic, tender. He has one of the most sensual near-kisses ever onscreen. His blue eyes pierce, his brown locks are tinged with fiery auburn, and those breeches are tight, darn tight, revealing some – ahem – rather taut flanks.
8. Mr. Edward Cullen (né Edward Anthony Masen) (Robert Pattinson)
The Twilight Saga (2008-12)
The undead Edward. Mr. Pattinson’s Mr. Rochester-type is a tortured, soulless vampire, cold, brooding, glowering, self-loathing, stalking and obsessing. Deep and deadly passions rumble under that beautifully controlled, often taciturn exterior. Plus, he reads minds, shimmers in the sunshine, runs really fast, pours all his passions into his piano playing and likes to wrestle mountain lions to suck their blood.
9. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (George C. Scott)
Jane Eyre (1970)
Grandpa Rochester. Although not the oldest actor to have portrayed Rochester on the screen, Mr. Scott’s Rochester just feels, looks and acts, well, old. His jowls are getting a bit droopy. There are liberal streaks of grey in his mane and a paternal surliness to his mien. Fortunately, his Jane is no spring chicken either, so their age difference doesn’t feel totally criminal.
10. Mr. Paul Holland (Tom Conway)
I Walked with a Zombie (1943)
The suave, mysterious, aristocratic Rochester-type with the aquiline nose and the pencil moustache. Mr. Conway’s Mr. Holland is strong, silent, very sad, masterly dismissive, ruling over the decaying fecundity of his family’s Caribbean sugar plantation. He’s honorably devoted to his beautiful, non-responsive, invalid wife with her mysteriously incurable illness. There are frictions with his alcoholic younger brother. And there’s something brewing with the pert, little, Canadian nurse, newly arrived to tend to his ailing wife.
11. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (William Hurt)
Jane Eyre (1996)
The soft-spoken, subdued, fair-haired Mr. Rochester. Mr. Hurt’s Mr. Rochester is all broken vulnerability and wistful amiability, his blue eyes looking so forlorn and lost and close to tears. His face is world-weary and lined, his youthful handsomeness fading. But his tender, gentle heart remains. This is such a sad and lonely Rochester that you just want to caress his cares away. Give the man a hug already!
12. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Colin Clive)
Jane Eyre (1934)
The first talking Mr. Rochester on the silver screen. Although, Mr. Clive’s Mr. Rochester might have been better served by remaining mute. The script took too many liberties with the source material, and this Rochester is all gentlemanly gallantry, social niceties, gentle pleadings. The tortured, Byronic brute is gone, just gone, alack and alas. Mr. Clive needed a booster shot from his earlier role as Dr. Frankenstein to bring forth some gothic, soul-wracking, Rochester-worthy torment.
13. Mr. Edward Fairfax Rochester (Michael Jayston)
Jane Eyre (1973)
The appealingly imperious Mr. Rochester with the mischievously glinting eyes. Slight of build, Mr. Jayston’s Mr. Rochester never becomes imposingly brutish. There’s a subdued rancour and sorrow to his presence and a polished, classically trained, theatrical cadence to his lines. He too pulls off the transvestitism of the palm reader scene. There’s an open-faced handsomeness to Mr. Jayston’s Mr. Rochester, and the crow’s feet around those fine eyes are rather endearing.
14. Mr. Edward Rochester (Adam J. Wright)
The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (2013-14)
The modern Rochester with the corny jokes and the easy, teasing manner. Mr. Wright’s Mr. Rochester is the elusive, self-made man, clean-cut, coiffed, dressed to the nines, young and a tad on the scrawny, wiry side. He plays a lot of mind games with our fair Jane.
Who is your favorite Mr. Rochester?