Jane Eyre movies and other adaptations (radio, theatre, television) have captivated audiences for almost as long as the book has been around. Charlotte Brontë (originally under the pen name Currer Bell) published Jane Eyre in 1847, and the novel became an immediate success.
Adapting the famous story across the different entertainment mediums (dependent on what is popular and available at the time) has been a work in progress ever since.
In a first-person narrative, Jane Eyre tells the story of a plain orphan girl who faces abuse as a child and later finds love with her employer, Mr. Edward Rochester. But he has a dark secret that threatens everything.
The novel follows Jane from a young girl to womanhood and is considered one of the greatest love stories ever written. It’s part Bildungsroman, part Gothic novel, and part Romantic novel.
HOW MANY JANE EYRE MOVIES ARE THERE?
Across feature films, television, radio, and theatre, more than 70 adaptations of Jane Eyre exist. The first adaptation premiered in 1849 and was a five-act play by John Brougham.
The first silent Jane Eyre film premiered in 1910, the first talkie feature film in 1934, the first radio adaptation in 1938, and the first television adaptation in 1949. And every few years, a new adaptation pops up.
WHAT IS THE BEST ADAPTATION OF JANE EYRE?
But what Jane Eyre adaptation is the best? Out of the numerous versions of Jane Eyre movies, it is challenging to create a definitive ranking or say which one is the “best.” Although, movie/TV-wise, the choices most often differ between the top 7 on this list, depending upon personal preference!
In the end, rankings are always subject to interpretation – and arguably depend upon how one reads the novel. And there is never one right way to interpret.
But for this list, I decided to consider many factors to create the Jane Eyre movies and other adaptations ranking while also leaving theatre out of the ranking as it would be too difficult to place.
FACTORS INTO RANKING:
- Closeness to the original text
- Does it capture the spirit of the novel?
- Production Quality
- Cinematography (for films, television)
- Acting Interpretations – for example, how successfully an actor pulls off a Byronic Hero as Mr. Rochester or how much the actress captures the essence of Jane.
- Actors’ chemistry
- Historical Importance of Adaptation
- And yes, personal taste!
While I agree that adhering to an original text is essential, it cannot be the only aspect to consider. Adaptations are not books, and therefore do not always work best by directly copying the original text as not everything translates well to other mediums.
Different types of media tell stories in different ways. Visual interpretations must be considered for films, as an example.
TYPES OF BOOK ADAPTATIONS
There are also different types of book adaptations. I consider how well the adapter’s intent is met and if it captures the spirit of the original novel.
One type of adaptation is the one that tries to follow a book closely, often word by word.
The second type of adaptation is the kind that adheres to the spirit of the novel but makes changes to the dialogue, cuts scenes, etc. This type of adaptation is often a more artistic interpretation, using cinematography, color schemes, etc., to bring out the novel’s themes.
The other type of adaptation is loose retellings. The adapter may alter the story considerably, change the time period, uniquely interpret the story, etc. Or, in other words, transform it. But it will still recognizably resemble the original story.
Ideally, the best adaptations find the right balance between an artful interpretation and the novel’s original intent (whether that’s by following the text like Pride and Prejudice (1995) or successfully bringing out the themes like the transformative Mansfield Park (1999).
THE JANE EYRE FILMS (AND OTHER ADAPTIONS) LIST
For this list, I only included adaptations available to watch, or in the case of radio, listen to currently. I’ve also seen or listened to every version listed below.
Other adaptations exist but are harder to access (such as the well-reviewed 1956 Jane Eyre adaptation starring Stanley Baker and Daphne Slater, which is available at the British Film Institute), are lost (many silent films and television adaptations) or are foreign interpretations with no English subtitles.
I also decided not to include theatre for obvious reasons and most radio adaptations since I wanted to focus primarily on visual versions of the Gothic love story.
THE SILVER PETTICOAT AWARD
Like our previous ranking of Pride and Prejudice adaptations, I’ve given a Silver Petticoat award for each Jane Eyre adaptation, pointing out what’s unique, historical, or best about it.
Note: The ‘Where to Watch’ section is subject to change at any time.
15 OF THE BEST JANE EYRE MOVIES AND ADAPTATIONS, RANKED (BEWARE OF SPOILERS)
(RANKED FROM WORST TO BEST)
#15 Matinee Theatre: Jane Eyre (1957)
If I never see this version again, it will be too soon! In this truncated version of the story, the tale of the orphan, Jane, and her romance with Mr. Rochester is more Horror than Gothic with a campy style and bizarre performances.
Bertha cackles campily throughout the television production, Mr. Rochester is a leering alcoholic, and Jane is somewhat airy and ditzy.
While the sets are much better than the earlier television adaptations in 1949 and 1952, this adaptation is severely flawed. But mostly, this one ranks as the worst because of Patrick Macnee’s interpretation of Rochester. For this, I also blame the screenwriter and director.
This is the Weinstein of Rochester interpretations. In one scene, he’s so predatory that I thought it possible he might assault her. It felt like an assault and is horrifying.
There was nothing romantic about this adaptation, but at least the production quality was an improvement over previous television adaptations.
Silver Petticoat Award: Most Campy Adaptation
Where to Watch: YouTube
#14 Studio One: Jane Eyre (1952)
This adaptation starring Katharine Bard and Kevin McCarthy is not bad, but it is somewhat unremarkable.
The script interpretation resembles the 1949 Studio One adaptation with Charlton Heston. Still, unlike that one, McCarthy is not a very Byronic Mr. Rochester, and it lacks the innovation and director’s vision. The sets are a significant improvement from the 1949 version, though.
Overall, this Jane Eyre is a tad melodramatic and forgettable but still enjoyable to watch.
Silver Petticoat Award: Most Improved Production Design/Sets
Where to Watch: It can be hard to find. Sometimes it’s up on YouTube.
#13 Jane Eyre (1934)
Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive star in this historically fascinating adaptation of Jane Eyre. This movie is not good on an objective level, but it is interesting from a historical perspective. It’s the first talkie adaptation of Jane Eyre, and curiously enough, a woman wrote the script.
In this version, Jane is a gorgeous blonde bombshell with a snarky, independent personality. Mr. Rochester, on the other hand, is not very Byronic. He’s sweeter and kinder in this version.
The production values are mediocre with amateur-like filmmaking. But overall, it’s entertaining to watch, and I liked the romantic ending.
Silver Petticoat Awards: First Talkie Feature Film Adaptation & Most Glamorous Jane
Where to Watch: Stream on Tubi and FlixFling. Rent/buy on Digital (Amazon) and DVD.
#12 The Autobiography of Jane Eyre (2013-2014)
While not on the same artistic level as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, if you enjoy web series, this one is fun to watch, and it adapts Jane to modern times decently, with Jane working as a nanny.
What’s unique about this contemporary adaptation is that the filmmakers incorporated transmedia (telling a story across different media) into the production. So, besides the web series, you can also learn extra information about the story on Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr from the characters’ fictional accounts.
However, the one main downside is that an actor left the production early, leaving an unfinished feel to the series. Still, overall, this one is a must-watch experience for Jane Eyre fans who enjoy web series and don’t mind the lower-budget look.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Use of Transmedia
Where to Watch: YouTube
#11 Sangdil (1952)
Sangdil is an Indian Hindi-language romantic retelling of Jane Eyre and was a huge commercial success starring popular classic actors. Imagine the screenwriter combining the characters of John Reed (if he were kind) and Mr. Rochester, and you’d have the star-crossed love story for this loose retelling.
Childhood sweethearts, Kamal and Shankar, are separated as children by Shankar’s cruel mother. Kamal becomes a priestess, and years later, they reconnect. Most of the familiar Jane Eyre plot points are here, and it is fun to recognize them in a unique setting.
If you enjoy music and Indian films, this one is intriguing to watch, even if sometimes the flow felt a little slow.
Silver Petticoat Award: Most Creative Jane Eyre Retelling
Where to Watch: Rent/buy on Digital (Amazon) and DVD.
#10 Studio One: Jane Eyre (1949)
Charlton Heston and Mary Sinclair star in this innovative abridged adaptation. While the set is not as good as the later ’52 and ’57 television adaptations, overall, it’s a much better production – from the surprisingly good performance from Charlton Heston to the innovative camera shots and directing from Franklin J. Schaffner (who later won a Best Directing Oscar for Patton).
He was considered a pioneering director because he used moving cameras in early television when before it remained mainly static. Jane in the adaptation, however, was too pretty and uninteresting to capture the essence of the dynamic Jane Eyre. But she’s okay.
Overall, from a historical perspective, this one’s a fascinating watch worth checking out.
Silver Petticoat Award: Most Innovative Classic TV Adaptation (Before 1970)
Where to Watch: YouTube and DVD.
#9 Jane Eyre (1997)
The 1997 TV adaptation starring Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton is decent but flawed. The story is incredibly condensed, and overall, the production and artistic quality are mediocre. The movie has some strange camera shots, the music is often melodramatic, and the lighting is too dark.
Positively, however, Samantha Morton is well-cast as Jane. She looks the part and is the perfect age for 18-year-old Jane.
Ciaran Hinds, on the other hand, doesn’t work as Rochester. Maybe some people will enjoy his performance (I usually love the actor), but he barks rather than speaks much of the time and comes across as entirely unromantic, which wasn’t to my taste.
Still, Rupert Penry-Jones as St. John (while not in the adaptation much) looks most like how I always imagined the character. Although in this version, he’s a bit too sweet.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Looking St. John With a Grecian Profile
Where to Watch: Stream on Tubi and IMDB TV. Rent on Digital (Amazon) and buy on DVD.
#8 Jane Eyre: BBC Radio 4 Full-Cast Dramatization (2016)
Tom Burke (C.B. Strike) and Amanda Hale (Persuasion) star in this brilliant full-cast dramatization of the story. While some plot points are left out, Burke and Hale give strong performances in the leads, and the play adapts the novel well, keeping the spirit of the story alive.
I was especially intrigued by Tom Burke’s performance. He’s a fabulous actor seen in a few period dramas and would make a fantastic live-action Rochester (he looks exactly like the book description!). He captures the essence of the Byronic character and uses his voice to great effect. Hale is also quite effective as Jane.
RELATED: May 2021 Reviews Of The Month – 18 Entertaining Romantic Movies, Period Dramas, And More To Watch
Overall, if you want to listen to a good radio dramatization (perfect for when you’re driving in your car!), this one is fabulous. If this was longer with more time to explore the story, including the religious aspects, it might be higher on the list because Tom Burke is just that good!
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Radio Adaptation
How to Listen: Audible. Buy Audiobook/CD.
#7 Jane Eyre (1970)
I was surprised by how artistic and excellent this adaptation is—George C. Scott and Susannah York star in this Emmy-winning movie as the tortured Rochester and passionate Jane.
While this version skips over Gateshead, Director Delbert Mann showcases a compelling Lowood sequence. Beyond that, George C. Scott gives a fascinating Beast-like interpretation of the character, while York brings out Jane’s independence and fight for equality.
Sure, York is somewhat miscast with her ’70s hairdo and makeup. However, her performance is still strong with more personality than Jane interpretations before her (only Joan Fontaine gave a good performance previously).
From an artistic perspective, the directing, screenwriting, Gothic elements, cinematography, lighting, etc., are all good.
However, what is perhaps best about this adaptation is the underrated brilliant music score from the legendary John Williams. He won the Emmy for the score, and it is hauntingly beautiful.
While the adaptation is imperfect, the music will transport you inside the story, and you won’t soon forget it.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Original Music Score
Where to Watch: Stream on IMDB TV and Redbox. You can also rent/buy on Digital (Amazon) and DVD.
#6 Jane Eyre (1996)
From an artistic perspective, the 1996 adaptation is top-notch. Many shots look like classic paintings; the music score is beautiful (with a similar sound to the ’80s Anne of Green Gables movies). It has a solid visual atmosphere utilizing color, lighting, and more to capture themes and emotion.
Franco Zeffirelli’s adaptation also has a lot of “bests” in it. From the best Young Jane (Anna Paquin steals the entire movie in only a few scenes) to the tied for the best Mrs. Fairfax (Joan Plowright is a scene-stealer with a precise understanding of the character and novel), and even the best Miss Temple. Amanda Root as Miss Temple brings compassion and warmth to the character and even shows how she later influences Jane’s personality.
In other positive aspects, Charlotte Gainsbourg is a fabulous Jane. She looks and feels like the part. She plays her in an almost stoic way, with glimpses of passion shining through.
Unfortunately, William Hurt as Mr. Rochester is entirely miscast. He’s too old for the part, too passionless, and doesn’t give the theatrics the character needs. But the romance is still good in the film if understated.
The script is strong, if somewhat revisionist, with a few unusual choices. St. John is a bit mild in this version without much to do.
Overall, artistically, the film is beautiful and worth watching for that reason, but Hurt (while still watchable) dampers overall enjoyment.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Young Jane (Anna Paquin)
Where to Watch: Stream on the Roku Channel and Hoopla. You can also rent/buy on Digital and DVD.
#5 Jane Eyre (1973)
The Michael Jayston and Sorcha Cusack adaptation is very theatrical, almost staged like a play. Most of the performances also feel theatrical, which takes time to adjust to in a television series (especially in the first part with the young Jane). Even the lighting looks like a stage, and overall, the adaptation feels a bit dated, and the visuals aren’t the best.
However, what makes this version work are the actors. Sorcha Cusack is a good Jane – she looks the part and is a fine actress.
But where this adaptation works the most is with the severely underrated performance from Michael Jayston as Edward Rochester. He’s very expressive with his eyes and mouth, in a way that will remind viewers of Colin Firth’s performance as Mr. Darcy in Pride and Prejudice more than twenty years later.
Jayston, like Firth, creates ambiguity in his performance, making him all the more enigmatic and exciting.
Together, Jayston and Cusack have pleasant chemistry, and the best parts of the adaptation are when the two converse in long scenes together. The dialogue comes straight from the novel, so fans looking for a faithful adaptation should enjoy this one immensely. It’s one of the few adaptations that have a gypsy scene with Mr. Rochester in costume!
Stephanie Beacham also makes a fantastic Blanche Ingram, bringing out her intelligence and wit.
Now I found that the narration from Jane did not always work and disrupted the flow of a scene. And this version doesn’t really bring out the Gothic elements.
Still, overall, it’s a great adaptation due to the faithful dialogue and a few standout performances – most notably Michael Jayston.
Silver Petticoat Award: Most Faithful Dialogue/Most Underrated Mr. Rochester
Where to Watch: Buy on DVD.
#4 Jane Eyre (1943)
The Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine adaptation is an excellent variation full of artistic cinematography and fabulous Gothic lighting. Orson Welles gives the type of moody performance he’s famous for, while Fontaine brings innocence to the character.
Peggy Ann Garner as young Jane is a particular standout in this version, as is the perfectly cast Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns and the always entertaining Margaret O’Brien as Adele. Peggy Ann Garner gives one of the best young Jane performances everyone should see!
While the script cuts out critical aspects of the novel (including the entire sequence with St. John Rivers), the strong screenplay and production quality make up for it. The essence of the story feels intact, and overall, it is a historically significant film in the history of Jane Eyre movies.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Cinematography and Artistic Use of Lighting
Where to Watch: Stream on Hoopla. Rent/buy on Digital and DVD.
#3 Jane Eyre (2011)
Cary Joji Fukunaga’s adaptation starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender is the best from an artistic standpoint. It has the best script, bringing out the Gothic themes more than any other version – focusing on dreams and ghosts.
Like the 2006 adaptation, the dialogue isn’t always exact, giving it a more natural, artistic feel fitting to the film medium while also enhancing the themes the screenwriter and director want to focus on from the novel. The non-linear narrative structure utilizing flashbacks works because it helps get through more of the story in less time. It also helps give the film a fast pace, never leaving you feeling bored.
The lighting is fabulous, using natural candlelight and firelight. The costumes and hairstyling were perfect (costume design was nominated for an Academy Award).
The music score was beautiful, and the visual atmosphere effectively utilized blues and grays to enhance Gothic elements and the story’s bleakness. Out of all the adaptations, Fukunaga’s attention to period detail is the best.
Everyone (except maybe Jamie Bell – who is a good actor but doesn’t fit the part) was cast well from Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender to Judi Dench (who ties with Joan Plowright for the best Mrs. Fairfax), Sally Hawkins as Mrs. Reed, and even Diana and Mary Rivers.
Wasikowska and Fassbender give some of the best performances as Jane and Rochester and have fantastic chemistry. Wasikowska gives the second-best performance as Jane (behind Ruth Wilson only slightly), with Fassbender tying in second with Toby Stephens.
I still don’t think any actor has topped Dalton’s Byronic performance! But Fassbender understands how to play a Byronic Hero well and is quite romantic in this adaptation.
This adaptation also has the best Adele – not necessarily because the young actress is the best – but because she feels the most authentically French. I appreciated the use of subtitles when the characters would have French conversations. It felt more authentic and genuine.
Judi Dench, is of course, fabulous as always, adding a touch of levity to what is a pretty serious adaptation. She knows how to steal a scene and does so quite a few times!
However, the 2011 adaptation is a bit austere, which may not be to everyone’s taste. Many of the light moments are removed from book scenes and from conversations to give the movie a bleaker, more Gothic feel.
It’s an artistic choice that works, but sometimes I missed lighter moments – like seeing Miss Temple, flirting between Rochester and Jane (he tries, but she’s so stoic!), the games at the house party, etc.
I also felt some parts felt too rushed and condensed, notably Blanche’s story and the other house guests. She felt more like a story device than a person. A couple of the deleted scenes with Blanche would have improved this aspect easily.
Still, I loved the intense Romanticism of the film with hints of the supernatural, and I also think this adaptation had the best Jane/Rochester romantic kisses! But while the proposal scene was excellent, it wasn’t as passionate as the one between Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson.
That said, I think the top three on my list are almost equal in different ways and could easily be argued as being the “best adaptation.”
On a side note, if you like a good thrill in your gothic movies, watch the deleted scenes from the DVD. They are genuinely frightening. Bertha Mason Rochester is truly scary – as are the scenes with a ghostly Helen Burns haunting Jane.
I’m not sure why they cut these fantastic scenes out – maybe the audience thought it was too creepy – but I think it would have been great!
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Production Quality/Best Gothic Adaptation
Where to Watch: Rent/buy on Digital and DVD.
#2 Jane Eyre (1983)
Ah, the 1983 adaptation. I wavered between this one and the 2006 adaptation over which one I love best. But the higher production values, the gothic atmosphere, and Ruth Wilson’s perfect performance edged 2006 to the top spot. But it was close…
If you want to watch a faithful adaptation that gives you a more “complete” feel of the story, I recommend this one! The 1983 adaptation takes the time to explore Jane’s childhood – something often skipped over in most versions.
We get to know young Jane, what her life was like at Gateshead and Lowood. We see more of Miss Temple and Helen Burns. And we know the abuse Jane endured, giving her more characterization. Later, we even get to see a fuller version of the St. John and Rosamond story.
Beyond that, the casting, script, and performances are spot on. Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester is swoony and perfect in the role. Dalton could give a masterclass in how to play a Byronic Hero.
Sure, he’s handsome, probably the most handsome actor to play the part. But I’m not at all convinced that Rochester is described as ugly in the book – at least not by today’s standards. He’s rugged and not what was considered attractive at that time! So, his looks should be open to interpretation anyway.
I also must give credit where it’s due: Zelah Clarke is a fabulous Jane. It’s easy to overlook the actresses playing Jane, but Clarke deserves recognition for her performance. Up to this point in time (1983), she was the best actress to play the character. She and Dalton have strong chemistry, and she captures the layers of the passionate and fiercely independent Jane.
The two actors have a fun, flirty banter. And the adaptation brings out Jane’s singular personality and elements of Romanticism – including many nature sounds in scenes.
Still, the production quality is not as good as later productions, and it isn’t overly artistic with filmmaking choices. But the excellent script and performances more than make up for that.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Byronic Mr. Rochester
Where to Watch: BritBox or buy on DVD.
#1 Jane Eyre (2006)
While it’s the actors cast as Rochester who often stand out in many past adaptations, here, Ruth Wilson truly shines as Jane – finally capturing all the nuances of the character from the novel. Ruth Wilson IS Jane and gives an award-worthy performance bringing Jane’s emotional complexity to life.
And since the story is called Jane Eyre, her version quickly moves this adaptation right to the top! Jane SHOULD shine in an adaptation. She was so good, Wilson received a Golden Globe nomination, something rare in a period drama. Ruth Wilson ultimately gives the most impassioned Jane Eyre performance.
On the other hand, Toby Stephens is also brilliant as Rochester. He captures all the wildness and complexity of Rochester and oozes romantic appeal – while also physically matching the character.
While he’s not as Byronic as Dalton, he captures Rochester’s intelligence, moodiness, sarcasm, sexuality (which is impossible to ignore in the book), and even his flirtatiousness with expert skill.
From the start, the adaptation begins artistically with a scene showcasing Jane’s imagination. From there, the artistry continues. The music score is distinct, haunting, and gorgeous. The visual atmosphere is superb, showcasing the themes and gothic elements of the novel.
The director, Susanna White, uses the camera innovatively to enhance themes. She also uses color and lighting effectively, visually bringing out the moods from the novel. While it’s not “as” artistic as the 2011 adaptation, the quality is very high for a mid-2000s TV production.
Tara Fitzgerald as Mrs. Reed gives the most menacing, frightening performance of the actors playing the character. Overall, the characterization is brilliant in this version, making characters such as Blanche Ingram feel like complete characters rather than a story device.
Even Rosamond feels the most developed in this version despite her brief appearance. Finally, we see St. John truly in love with her and his struggle with it.
And as far as the script goes, the dialogue stays true to the spirit of the novel – even if it doesn’t always quote the book word for word. While some viewers prefer exact phrases, that can create awkwardness in an adaptation. Sandy Welch is an expert screenwriter and fantastic at adapting classic novels for a contemporary audience.
Yes, the adaptation is controversial for the steamy scene (although it’s TV-PG, so it’s not THAT steamy) and some of the changes to the book’s dialogue (which, again, I argue, gives it a more naturalistic feel in a TV/film medium). But if you read the book, I can see why screenwriter Sandy Welch (who adapted the superb 2004 adaptation of North & South) chose to include the scene.
Jane, in the book, reveals her temptations to stay with Rochester through her thoughts, implying desire. And the scene before she leaves Rochester is rather erotic in the novel. So, physically showing her temptation is not that outrageous.
Jane is not a saint, and she is a sexual person, so it doesn’t bother me. It’s still showing her morality and her sticking to her principles. But I get the choice. I also understand the argument against the scene. Still, whether or not one likes it, I do think it’s a fair interpretation.
Overall, I only have two minor complaints. Lowood should be longer, and, as a twin myself, I felt Welch took the twin metaphor a little too far by showing the silly twins dressed the same. Haha. But that’s minor quibbles and probably not noticeable to most!
As a whole, it’s a brilliant and artistic modern adaptation fully capturing the emotions of the novel and the essence of the characters and their love story. It’s also the most entertaining adaptation you can watch again and again.
Silver Petticoat Award: Best Jane Eyre (Ruth Wilson)/Best Chemistry Between Actors
Where to Watch: BritBox, BritBox Amazon Channel, Hulu, PassionFlix. You can also buy on Digital and DVD. Warning: The streaming version cuts out scenes from the original length.
What is your favorite Jane Eyre adaptation? Do you have a favorite Jane Eyre movie, television, or another type of adaptation? Who is your favorite Jane? Your favorite Rochester? Discuss below!