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Jane Eyre

August 30, 2010

Jane Eyre (1944)
Director: Robert Stevenson
Actors: Joan Fontaine, Orson Welles, Peggy Ann Garner

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Synopsis: Orphan, Jane Eyre (Joan Fontaine), becomes governess at the residence of the mysterious Mr Rochester (Orson Welles).

Review: If ever a film could serve as memoriam to the transcendent splendour of black and white cinematography, this is it. The narrative element itself is pretty trite but the sheer beauty of the film’s “look” in spite of that mediocrity is undeniable. The film’s arch gothic tendencies find full expression in the amazing contrasts director of photography, George Barnes, finds between light and dark. The documenting of Jane Eyre’s bleak schooling days receives apt depiction in the drab greys of the harsh borstal Lowton, and her travails as governess of Thornfield find representation in the various shifts from darkness in Mr Rochester’s company to the lighter, softer scenes with his ward Adele and other society.

Though a beautiful film to watch, its very melodramatic élan makes for a progressively more absurd storyline. Mr Rochester, as essayed by Orson Welles in a ridiculously pompous and indulgent performance (all gruff tones and raised eyebrows), slowly overwhelms the film from his over-the-top entrance forwards, and Jane is reduced to passive, romantic support, when the film should be about her psychology and gradual metamorphosis. The ending is particularly silly as Jane’s ‘sabbatical’ with St John Rivers is almost totally abbreviated for a rushed, dramatic reunion with Rochester – storm clouds and all – which trivialises the otherwise consummate craftsmanship on show. (November 2006)

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