Acclaimed director Cary Fukunaga talks to i-D Online about his beautifully broody adaptation of Jane Eyre; the classic story of the “plain and small” heroine with a brave heart, fierce intellect and more than a few man troubles.
Taking on a novel of such magnitude as Jane Eyre is no easy feat for any director. Yet the challenge has more than paid off for Cary Fukunaga, whose soon-to-be released version re-tells Charlotte Brontë’s 1847 classic in a refreshing and emotive style. “It’s hard to say what first attracted me to the story, but it just really stuck with me,” explains the young American director. “I could break it down on an intellectual level but that’s not how I operate. I act purely on instinct.”
For those not familiar with the story, Jane Eyre is an orphan who struggles through her early life, unloved and alienated by her adoptive family and forced to attend a puritanical boarding school. Even though relentlessly confronted with tragedy, (the death of her only school friend is a particularly heart-wrenching scene), Jane refuses to let her troubles define her, taking a job as governess at the gloomy Thornfield Hall. It is there she meets and falls in love with Mr. Rochester, the brooding hero with a volatile temper, alluring gaze and a number of skeletons in the closet (or attic, even.) From the off, Jane Eyre is far from your average love story, as Fukunaga agrees: “It is about someone who won’t sacrifice themselves for an imperfect love or one that goes against their moral compass,” he explains. “Jane is a heroine who has convictions that are rare even in the literature of today.”
Flawless throughout, Mia Wasikowska gives a beautifully understated performance as the film’s heroine. The 21-year-old Australian actress, previously applauded for her starring role in Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland, adds a youthful vulnerability to the character, something never really explored in previous adaptations, as Fukunaga discusses: “What I found striking when reading the novel was how young these people were. Jane was 18 when she arrived at Thornfield and I really can’t imagine the burdens she must have had.” From certain angles, Wasikowska appears almost child-like, a deliberate intention of the director: “I wanted to show that her transition into adulthood wasn’t complete yet.”
Man-of-the-moment and rumoured future Bond Michael Fassbender falls naturally into the role of Mr. Rochester, a tortured soul who combines a severe scowl and manipulative nature with an underlying sensitivity. “He’s one of those guys that has this really incredible armour, but on the inside he’s a softie.” Dame Judi Dench also offers her services as Thornfield’s housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax, and Jamie Bell is superb as the hopeless yet kind-hearted missionary who rescues Jane from the moors yet fails to win her heart.
Working from the novel’s gothic tones, the stunning and eerily spooky scenery plays a vital part in the film, transporting its viewer to another world and going against the sometime stuffy nature of period dramas. Some scenes are even guaranteed to have you jumping out of your seat, as Fukunaga confirms. “I really wanted to get across Charlotte’s early gothic tones, the windswept moors and the creaky homes. Obviously I didn’t want to make a horror film, but I definitely wanted to seat it in something more spooky.” So, how would the director like his audience to react to Jane Eyre? “When you make a good film or a good story, people put themselves in it and they remember the choices they’ve made, people they’ve been cruel to or been in love with. You just want people to feel.”
Jane Eyre is released nationwide on Friday 9th September.
Text: Rose Poole