Jane Eyre is one of the most-adapted novels in the history of film (I'm guessing - check IMDb, there's lots of them), so the story is vaguely familiar. Jane (Mia Wasikowska) grows up outside of normal English society, finding herself in constant trouble with her aunt and the teachers at her boarding school. When she grows up, she becomes a governess for Adele, the young French ward of one Mr. Rochester (Michael Fassbender), who instantly takes a liking to young Jane. However, Mr. Rochester is harboring a dark secret in his manor, one that could unravel everything.
One of the things I like about Charlotte Bronte, who wrote the novel on which the film is based, is that, unlike Jane Austen, there's a dark, quasi-supernatural angle to her stories, where things do not always necessarily end for the best. Jane Eyre is an excellent example of this, as Jane's childhood is bleak and her relationship with Rochester not without its sharp edges. Thankfully, for this adaptation director Cary Fukunaga, who previously impressed with Sin Nombre, understands this darkness, and presents this with some truly stunning shots of the gloomy mores Jane lives on. He also has great grasp on the themes of romantic desire, as the scenes in which Rochester and Jane converse crackle with unspoken sexual desire. A film like this needs a director who understands this aspect of pre-Sexual Revolution life, and Fukunaga not only succeeds at this but lives up to his promise of being a director to watch.
In the role of Jane, Wasikowska is a brave choice, given that her last leading role was the dreadful Alice in Wonderland. This time, though, she does much better, though she still seems uncomfortable being a lead - perhaps she's better suited for supporting roles a la The Kids Are All Right or her breakout, HBO's In Treatment. Judi Dench and Sally Hawkins show up in fun cameo roles, as does the unfortunately-named but truly gifted Imogen Poots. But it's Fassbender who steals the show here as Rochester, loading every word with a sexuality that's both seductive and terrifying. It's a remarkable performance from Fassy, who has been having quite a year and seems to be on the fast-track to join Ryan Gosling as the Actor of Our Generation.
Overall, Jane Eyre does a great job at distinguishing itself from other versions of the tale. It captures the dark passion that the Brontes favored, and presents it with some truly gorgeous images. B+