Two Movies made of Bronte’s Jane Eyre: A Comparision

There are at least two movies made of Charlotte Bronte’s famous novel Jane Eyre. I decided to watch the more modern version first directed by Dilbert Mann. Being based on a powerful story as Jane Eyre, it had to be good. The movie was a constant reminder of what a difficult task it is to convert a rich book or a rich life into a movie for it was in brief episodes that were linked, but not seamlessly. While I enjoyed the movie immensely, I wished that the music were more subtle. A story as beautiful as that could have been taken with much less fuss that the background music made of. Perhaps this is an idiosyncrasy…I’ve grown to prefer those stories that are powerfully told without a blast of a hundred violins and other obsequious sounds that try to dictate to me what my emotions should be for that part of the movie. The movies that have moved me most are those that have strong powerful stories, subtle acting and mild suggestive music. Both versions of Jane Eyre had music tailored to their purpose, and I should say that it should have touched a few chords, not mine though.

Dilbert Mann’s struggle to rewrite the story to make it more brief and suit the screen made me curious to check the older version of Jane Eyre directed by Robert Stevenson taken in 1944. I was left with no doubt that Dilbert Mann had seen this version and had it in his mind when he directed his version. The young Jane Eyre in both movies look strikingly similar. Both deal with the school in a brief manner concentrating instead on the love affair in her adult life. Both choose some important episodes from the book such as the fire in Edward’s room, the marriage, etc. But within this, there is a great deal of variation between the two movies. The 1944 version by Robert Stevenson is a much happier story, picking the more joyful events of Jane’s life. It was less episodic and more seamless than the newer version. But it did not match up the later version in terms of how Jane is characterised.

I feel that the newer version did far more justice to the story than the old. What the old movie lacked sorely was the strength of character that Jane Eyre was. It was sad to see her portrayed as beautiful, malleable and dutiful, and without a shred of strength that the same Jane Eyre was in the newer version of the movie. Barring a few dialogs here and there, Jane Eyre in the older version was just what fits the stereotype of a woman. It was awful to see her portrayed as someone who just surrenders at the strength of the “master”. It is best exemplified in the scene where Edward proposes to Jane and asks her to marry him – it was by a hypnotic stunt that he commands and she accepts marriage. Mann’s version made Jane look much more in command and she came out as a strong person through the movie, doing greater justice to the novel.

I now need to re-read the book to see how much justice the two movies have done to the book on the whole. I wonder if a woman director would have done it rather differently. I wonder if it would have been more faithful if the movie were longer – or if it were not produced by Hollywood. I trust there are other versions of Jane Eyre produced and directed by different people. I am now looking forward to see those as well.

My detailed reviews of movies can be found here and to see my ratings for various movies and short reviews, click here.

About Vivek Srinivasan

I work with the Program on Liberation Technology at Stanford University. Before this, I worked with the Right to Food Campaign and other rights based campaigns in India. To learn more, click here.

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