Home » blog » Jane Eyre (1996): A Handsome, but Chilly Adaptation of a Brontë Classic

Jane Eyre (1996): A Handsome, but Chilly Adaptation of a Brontë Classic

Jane Eyre 1996

Jane Eyre 1996 Film Review

Like so many classic pieces of literature, there are numerous adaptations to devour and delight. Some, Pride and Prejudice in particular, have a veritable smorgasbord of interpretations to wade through. Others, like Northanger Abbey, North and South or Our Mutual Friend, have less to entertain. Jane Eyre belongs in the former category. There are numerous film adaptations and mini-series which tell the story of Jane Eyre, the titular heroine in Brontë’s gothic romance.

Truth be told, this story never gets old. Everything about it is designed to enthrall, holding the reader and the viewer spellbound as Jane’s unfortunate childhood starts her on a path destined to discover her soulmate and her life.

Jane, You’re A Strange And Almost Unearthly Thing

Jane Eyre is orphaned, unloved and unwanted. As a child, she is systematically bullied, emotionally abused and shaped into a practical, introverted, aesthetically severe young woman. Despite the abuse, her spirit never breaks. She bravely endures years of cruelty at the hands of teachers. As an adult, Jane accepts a position as a governess to the brooding and sardonic Mr. Rochester’s ward. At Thornfield, Jane feels safe, happy and secure for the first time in her adult life.

I am not deceitful! And I am not a liar. For if I were, I should say that I loved you. I do not love you. I dislike you more than anyone in the world!

Franco Zeffirelli’s take on Jane Eyre is my favourite film adaptation. Perhaps it resonates because it’s because it was the first I saw as a child. While Toby Stevens and Ruth Wilson come a close second in the 2006 BBC miniseries, I have so much love for Charlotte Gainsbourg and William Hurt as this version’s kindred spirits.

The Shadows Are As Important As The Light

Zeffirelli’s Jane is plain, almost austere in her dress and person. She barely smiles, any joy she experiences glimpsed only by the elusive lift of her lips. Mr. Rochester as a foil is everything she is not – handsome and enigmatic. Unbeknownst to Jane, her own practical, straightforward demeanor makes her a complex puzzle Rochester is determined to solve. At Thornfield, Jane is a whole person, a beloved governess and a respected member of the Rochester household.

RELATED: Jane Eyre (2006) Tenth Anniversary Review – The Definitive Adaptation?

The film is moody and bleak, and in my opinion, the correct atmosphere to highlight the gothic undertones, as well as the repressed, implied sexuality of the source material. Everything at Thornfield is gloomy and damp. Yet Jane’s bedroom is sunshine and beams of light, expertly contrasted with the darkened spaces that Rochester occupies. These details brilliantly and beautifully underscore the drama unfolding on screen.

Do You Think Me Handsome?

The heart of Jane Eyre is the pivotal attachment she forms with Mr. Rochester. Jane is attracted to him. However, she is unsure of what his intentions and feelings are. Rochester, aware of her feelings, tests his theory by inviting the beautiful Blanche Ingram (Elle Macpherson) to Thornfield in an elaborate ruse. Each night he surreptitiously watches Jane’s reactions to his supposed attachment to try and garner insights into her suppressed emotions.

Charlotte Gainsbourg is intense and focused as the leading lady. She imbues her character with an uncanny intelligence, a critical eye and the ability to simply, but clearly convey Jane’s hidden, yet passionate spirit. With ashen cheeks, a severely knotted bun and an almost perpetual smile-less visage, Jane is bleak. And yet the camera seems to adore her. Wearing very little makeup, Jane is still eerily beautiful and plain in equal measures.

Do you think, because I am poor, obscure, plain and little, I am soulless and heartless?

Mr. Rochester (William Hurt) is subdued, introverted and cynical. World weary and somewhat embittered, Rochester is a fascinating character study. Around Jane, he seems unable to hide the sparkle in his eye, however. William and Charlotte have a fragile, yet electric chemistry that is incredibly compelling. With this pairing, the difference in age is also quite apparent. Jane’s severity in style and dress only seems to underscore the fact that she is a young woman and Rochester is a mature man.

You Are Not Naturally Austere Any More Than I Am Naturally Vicious

The most compelling parts of this adaptation, however, is the first quarter of the film. Oscar winner, Anna Paquin is incredible as a young Jane. Fierce and independent, she is unbroken at the hands of family and teachers who care nothing for her well-being. Paquin quite frankly steals every scene she is in and it’s easy to recognise her undeniable talent.

RELATED: Ten Novels For Fans Of Jane Eyre

But Jane Eyre also has gothic elements. There are ambiguous characters, strange goings on at Thornfield hall and intrigue around every corner. While the film does not have the luxury of meandering through these various plot points, it does a decent job of giving just enough without making the viewer feel cheated. Jane’s time with the St. John family, however, is almost non-existent. This version will disappoint if you particularly enjoyed that storyline.

Rochester never quite morphs into the perfect gentleman and Jane, while bleak and ethereally beautiful, is never treated to a gratuitous glamour shot. Jane Eyre is a beautiful film that remains true to characters at its heart.

Content Note: Jane Eyre is rated PG with a few scenes of blood and implied mild violence.

Where to Watch: Jane Eyre is available to watch on Amazon VideoJane Eyre is also available on DVD.

Photo credit: Miramax Films


“The stuff that dreams are made of.”


“You pierce my soul. I am half agony, half hope.

I have loved none but you.”

Silver Petticoat Review Logo Our romance-themed entertainment site is on a mission to help you find the best period dramas, romance movies, TV shows, and books. Other topics include Jane Austen, Classic Hollywood, TV Couples, Fairy Tales, Romantic Living, Romanticism, and more. We’re damsels not in distress fighting for the all-new optimistic Romantic Revolution. Join us and subscribe. For more information, see our About, Old-Fashioned Romance 101, Modern Romanticism 101, and Romantic Living 101.
Pin this article to read later! And make sure to follow us on Pinterest.


By on August 17th, 2017

About Naazneen Samsodien

Naazneen hails from South Africa and has spent most of her life steeped quite happily in fandom. A corporate Human Resource professional by day, she completed her undergraduate degree in Psychology and is currently completing her MPhil at the University of Cape Town. She spends her nights in a parallel universe where her creative pursuits find meaningful outlets. When she is not doing research, writing fanfiction or reading the latest novel for her book club, she is voraciously consuming information on pop culture and global socio-political issues - or quite simply, travelling the world. She loves words, fangirling shamelessly, Mr. Darcy and rugged beards... a lot.

More posts by this author.

6 thoughts on “Jane Eyre (1996): A Handsome, but Chilly Adaptation of a Brontë Classic”

  1. I think most will agree that no film can truly do justice to the story told in the novel. I’ve seen various versions, but it wasn’t until I read the book that I understood the brilliance and allure of Bronte’s Jane.

  2. While the 83 and 2006 version are my two favorites, there is a lot I love about this adaptation. And I agree. No doubt, Anna Paquin captured the best interpretation of the young Jane Eyre to date. It would have been fascinating to see her play the older Jane a few years later. Her scenes were filled with passion and intensity – exactly as I pictured Jane in the books! The adaptation was also gorgeously shot.

    • I think its the gorgeous cinematography that gets me. And something about Charlotte Gainsbourgh’s performance. She is so… just… the Jane of my imagination I suppose. Ruth Wilson imbued Jane with a little more warmth and humour I think. Which also worked fantastically. Funny, while I really enjoyed Michael Fassbender as Rochester, I didnt necessarily enjoy the latest adaptation as much.

      • The cinematography is gorgeous! And it’s interesting how each person’s imagination will connect to different interpretations. I think it shows that different actresses perhaps capture a part of the character’s essence and likely our own favorites depend on how we read the book and imagine it. No right or wrong or best. Just individual connection! 🙂

  3. Time to see this adaptation again! I saw it in theatres back in the day and haven’t seen it since. But I remember really liking it, especially Charlotte Gainsbourg as Jane.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.