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10 Fantastic Reasons to Watch the 1983 Jane Eyre Adaptation

Timothy Dalton stars in the underrated 1983 Jane Eyre adaptation.


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

Jane Eyre 1983. Photo Credit: BBC

If you are entirely new to the story of Jane Eyre, it’s about a young girl (Jane), orphaned as a baby and raised by her cruel aunt. When she’s ten, she’s sent off to Lowood school’s horrific atmosphere 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?

Jane Eyre, published by Charlotte Brontë in 1847, quickly became a success and has since gone on to be adapted over twenty 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).

The most recent significant adaptation is 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 that showcased Anna Paquin as a young Jane.

In the modern-day, it’s easy to overlook the 1983 Jane Eyre BBC miniseries when you have Toby Stephens or Michael Fassbender to watch as Mr. Rochester. Plus, Ruth Wilson’s incredible performance as Jane verges on perfection. Even I didn’t bother to watch the Jane Eyre 1983 version for a while. But I have since atoned to the error of my ways.


Jane Eyre (1983)

Ten Reasons to Watch

1983 jane eyre dvd poster

So without further ado, here are ten fantastic reasons to revisit the 1983 adaptation of Jane Eyre.

#1 Timothy Dalton.

With his brooding performance and deep understanding of how to play a Byronic Hero, he’s the perfect Rochester. Dalton often gets overlooked in performances, despite his undeniable talent.

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 role as intended by Brontë, 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 a passionate response to a situation. You can sense the deep emotions brewing inside a girl who has had to learn to keep her feelings hidden so as not to be beaten (even though it’s her true nature to be passionate).

I also like Zelah’s performance because she portrays Jane’s faults as well as her strengths. The director and screenwriter were brave enough to showcase Jane’s weaknesses, which Charlotte would have been pleased 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’s 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 at Lowood School. We get to know her tragic best friend, Helen Burns, and her inspiring teacher, Miss Temple. We see the ups, and we see the downs.

It’s also quite enjoyable to watch the impassioned young Jane react to the abused Helen’s almost “passive” reactions. This episode reminds me of an Anne Shirley spectacle: if she was brought to a horrible school instead of the loving Matthew and Marilla.

Most adaptations don’t have the time to show scenes from the book here. But this adaptation does, making 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, Brontë does not describe Mr. Rochester as ugly. He’s rugged with “deep eyes.”

She depicts him as not being beautiful…at least, “according to rule.” Perhaps in that time, a more feminine gentlemanly image was considered ideal. Even if Timothy Dalton is “too” handsome, I think we can forgive him for 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.

She won’t have any of the nonsense, but at least it was good fun for Rochester. Timothy Dalton dressed up in female clothes and disguised his voice as an older 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.

Rochester and Jane in Jane Eyre 1983
Mr. Edward Rochester (Timothy Dalton) and Jane Eyre (Zelah Clarke)
Photo: BBC

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 authentic rage of a Byronic struggling with inner demons.

The proposal scene is excellent. The director chose to film it in the dark, which is a fascinating choice. It foreshadows the doom of the proposal while also presenting Jane’s true feelings and Rochester’s intense, almost obsessive love. This series is at its best when it’s romantic. It’s stylized for sure, like classic films…just in the ’80s and in color.

#8 Beauty and the Beast.

The screenwriter and director understood Brontë’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.

When Jane reunites with Rochester in the end, archetypal themes of Beauty and the Beast 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 Jane and Rochester’s love story. But it’s essential 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 Brontë intended.

#10 Oh…and Timothy Dalton.

Well, that about wraps it up! If I haven’t convinced you yet to watch the 1983 Jane Eyre adaptation, let me point out I think Timothy Dalton is every bit as good as Toby Stephens from the 2006 miniseries (something I never thought I’d say). And he is 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 undoubtedly 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 as well as the Byronic Ross Poldark). No one plays brooding and tortured better than he does. If any actor wants tips on playing one, they need to look no further than Timothy Dalton.

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

Where to Watch: BritBox. You can also buy it on DVD.

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

(Note: This review has been updated for 2020 and was initially published in 2013.)


Five corsets rating
Five Vintage Hearts Rating

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By on June 25th, 2020

About Amber Topping

Amber works as a blogger/writer full-time and fell in love with stories and imagination at an early age. She has a Humanities and Film Degree from BYU, co-created The Silver Petticoat Review, contributed as a writer to various magazines, and has an MS in Publishing from Pace University, where she received the Publishing Award of Excellence and wrote her thesis on transmedia, Jane Austen, and the romance genre. Her ultimate dreams are publishing books, writing and producing movies, traveling around the world, and forming a creative village of talented storytellers trying to change the world through art.

More posts by this author.

50 thoughts on “10 Fantastic Reasons to Watch the 1983 Jane Eyre Adaptation”

  1. 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
    • The “Jane Eyre” of Charlotte Bronte with Timothy Dalton was magnificent and loved this version more than the movie or any other. In fact, I purchased the DVD because of him.

      Reply
  2. 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!

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    • 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.

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      • 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.

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  3. 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.

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  4. 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
    • 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.

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      • 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.

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  5. 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!

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  6. 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.

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  7. 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.

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  8. 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.

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  9. 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*

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  10. 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

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  11. 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.’

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  12. 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.

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  13. 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 ^-^

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  14. 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.

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  15. The 1983 version is the first I saw and all other Jane Eyre movies have suffered for it. lol Timothy Dalton was the best Mr. Rochester. It’s like he walked out of the pages of the book. I haven’t seen the 2006 version but I did see a clip on YouTube and he was too flirty for my tastes. Edward Fairfax Rochester didn’t flirt with Jane Eyre. He was a bit playful, yes, but not flirty. However, based on what you’ve said about it, I’m open to liking it. I saw the 1996 version and I really disliked that one. William Hurt was a horrible choice for Mr. Rochester (at least I thought so).

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  16. As a Brontë fan from the age of 16 on… I ended up being a British Victorian Literature major in college and later became an educator. I’m retired now.. but you cannot imagine my thrill when I found this site and the essay about the 1983 Julian Ayres adaptation of Jane Eyre. It is and always has been my favorite & I frequently used it when I was teaching the novel both in high school classes & my college classes. It does follow closely the novel, but more than that.. it is possibly the very best representation of the Rochester Byronic Hero in characterization–thanks to Dalton & his director. Brooding.. occasional outbursts, the belief that he is above the fray… with contempt for his gentry class and the entail laws of the times. I’m retired now.. but this Amanda Topping is spot-on with her assessment. It’s still my favorite adaptation.. although Zelah Clarke looks more than 18 and Dalton sometimes appears to be too handsome for the role. Both actors obviously knew the text and understood characterization! Bravo! Thanks for the “10 Fantastic Reasons…”

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    • Thank you so much for your comment! I appreciate it. And yes, I agree. Dalton and the director have a deep understanding for the Byronic Hero which is incredibly rare onscreen. So, it was a pleasure to watch.

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  17. I loved being able to see all the extras in this version that aren’t included in most of the others-charades, gypsy, Ms. Temple, begging in the village, Rochester’s scarred face, etc. Dalton was phenomenal. But I just didn’t like Zelah Clarke’s performance. She seemed too old first of all. And the chemistry just wasn’t there between them. The bedroom fire scene was so blah (that stupid cap didn’t help even if it was period appropriate). And it REALLY bothered me that she didn’t get dressed when Mason was attacked. That was one of those moments in the book where you see their deep connection. That is why I prefer the 2006 version-I believed they loved each other deeply.

    Reply
    • The only scene where a costume really bugs me is the fire in the bedroom one. Were we really supposed to believe that Rochester slept fully clothed and shod? That just kills the mood for me, I fast forward this one.

      The Mason scene was made as a total emergency with little time available so it works that way. She is not uncovered.

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  18. Glad to see this version getting its due. I’ve always thought Dalton was the best Rochester. Although this version has the advantage of time to devote to the book while the others are limited to two-hour versions. I also like the time it devotes to Jane’s relationship to Rivers which is shortchanged, neglected, or ignored in the other versions. I think Charlotte would choose this one.

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  19. This has always been my favorite, ever since I saw the episodes after school every day for a week back in the 80s. I’d seen the Orson Welles version, and loved that, but this one followed the book much more closely, so it became my favorite.

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    • Yeah, this one does follow the book well! I also love the 2006 one because I feel like it captured the essence of the novel. So, the 1983 and 2006 ones tie for my favorites.

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  20. I, too, love this adaptation. I like all the scenes they included, like others have mentioned (gypsy, charades, the begging, the extra stuff at Lowood, etc), and that they included so much of what happened at Moor House and her teaching etc. The scenes, too, at Ferndean, which I don’t think has been mentioned – there is more in this one than in most of the others. Though the Jayson one has some of that as well. Unlike others, I do like some part of the William Hurt adaptation – I like Charlotte Gainsbough, but don’t like the ways they shorten things. There are part of the Ciaran Hinds one I like, too, but more that makes me cringe in that one. I like the 2006 one as well, and even the more recent one, but there is something about this one that makes it stand out and makes me re-watch it more. Maybe it is nostalgic, as I think it may be the first one I saw. Definitely check out the 70s one, though. Easy to get from Amazon. Might have to go back and watch the Dalton/Clark one now!!

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    • Hi, Lynn! Thanks for your thoughts. Yeah, I have a goal to watch every Jane Eyre adaptation. I think there’s something to typically enjoy from each one. The 70s one is on my list, for sure!

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  21. I LOVE this version. They showed it in the Soviet Union back in the early 90s. Seen many many times since in Russian and English. Closest to the book since of its long running time. Became Timothy Dalton then.

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  22. Bless you for sharing this repeat visit. There are other versions of Jane Eyre I love, but this is in that top set, for sure. It’s easy going, not a ton of flash, very relaxing at times. I think there was one episode where the camera barely moves at all while Jane and Rochester are simply chatting and I love that. And yep, more of the original book which is often a plus in my sphere of enjoyment.

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  23. Cool article! I got my dissertation idea from one of the lines and Brontë’s other novels backed it up, and so think a lot of this adaptation. I never did tell my profs that I got my diss idea from a tv version, though, lol. I’ve seen two film adaptations (one I nearly walked out of because it was that bad) but not any later tv adaptations because why would I want to watch another since this exists? It’s just a bit less romantic than the adaptation of “The Barretts of Wimpole Street” starring Jeremy Brett and Jane Lapotaire.

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  24. One thing you didn’t mention about this Dalton/Clark version is the costuming. This is the only Jane Eyre I can recall that had Jane’s costumes as date-accurate. The style of her clothes was pretty darned true to what was actually worn at that time, and so many of the other productions have Jane’s clothes with a “modern/current” adaptation instead of what was actually the style. See Hollywood and History: Costume Design in Film by Edward Maeder. That book emphasizes how the year of the production is echoed in the costumes of the particular movie. Jane’s clothes were period-appropriate. In impressed me tremendously, such that I always look for this point in reviews of the Dalton/Clark miniseries.

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  25. It seems like 2020 has revisited your blog post in style! Very glad to be part of that though because I’ve been through a few Jane Eyre adaptations in my time and have only just discovered this one and my favourites have evolved from 1997 (Yes, I know. I’m sorry, I just love Ciaran Hinds.) and progressed to 2006 (Gotta love Toby and Ruth!) and then along came 1983.

    I think the stagey-ness of this version can be problematic but then that’s how things were generally done on British TV in the 80s. If you give it chance though, you’ll find that approach plays to the adaptation’s advantage if there’s a feeling that entire scenes have been shot in one long continuum rather than cut together afterwards. There’s a sense of organic flow in those long, pivotal conversations which gives them room to breath and brings them alive – strange Brontean language, and all (Looking at you, ‘men in green’!)

    Zelah Clarke made a wonderful Jane, not quite Ruth Wilson to be sure, but I’ve grown to appreciate her performance more and more. The make up department should have served her better, though, by making her hair style a little more robust as she seems to look frequently disheveled.

    I also wanted to give a massive shoutout to Blanche Youinou who, in my opinion, made the cutest, most adorable Adéle there’s ever been!

    And then there’s Rochester!! Oh goodness, my dear Mr Dalton, what are you doing to me? He is everything you want in a Rochester and then some! It’s funny because I’d seen stills from the production before and *still* let it pass me by, but I think Timothy Dalton who, despite being hugely photogenic, is even better in motion so I am immensely glad that I sat down and decided to give 1983 a go! There are times when the force of Dalton’s performance threatens to burst out of the screen – it’s quite a visceral experience!! So much so that it’s rather a challenge to write coherently about him without drifting into infatuated nonsense!! So I’ll leave it there except to say thank you for your excellent blog post which has given me the opportunity to vent about 1983 – in a good way – to someone who’ll understand!!! 🙂

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  26. I completely agree! Timothy Dalton brings a depth to Rochester that is lacking in all other versions. It is great to find kindred spirits here!

    Reply

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