Part of the joy of being addicted to period drama adaptations is a little bit of favouritism. Yes, you’ll have your favourite classic novels, but which adaptation found the essence of the book and made you adore it on screen? This is a polarising topic for many, with many heated arguments to be found online, but the important part is that you’re passionate about your choice. I am, and here’s why 2006’s adaptation of Jane Eyre will always be the best. Prior warning – I’ve had to work hard to cut my reasons down to just 5.
5. The pacing
Jane Eyre as a novel offers versatility in how it can be adapted. Some in charge of reworking the novel can put it into a short 1-hour play, whilst others will take out the early school scenes in favour of Jane’s time at Thornfield Hall. The 2011 movie particularly suffered in how it was adapted, trying to squeeze in far too much into a short run-time, yet still managing exceed Mrs Fairfax’s necessary screen time (the fact she was played by Judi Dench was likely the reason for this). To truly get the full nuances of the novel, television offers far more time and this adaptation’s 4-hour running time meant that it captured everything vital.
However, it could have dragged on in the earlier and later scenes, as others have done. Fortunately, the novel was directed by Susannah White and adapted by Sandy Welch, who also created the popular 2004 North and South adaptation and the 2009 version of Jane Austen’s Emma. Welch completely nailed the timing of the series, lengthening scenes only when necessary and giving fair time in the early years to allow the character of Jane to truly develop. Even smaller conversations like this are perfectly timed –
4. The score
The score of 2006’s Jane Eyre is criminally underrated. Composed by Rob Lane, who boasts an impressive CV of television adaptations including Daniel Deronda (2002) and Tess of the D’Urbervilles (2008), this is easily his best and most noticeable work of the period dramas he’s scored. It’s highly emotive, with an unsettling air that carefully leaves a sense of unease and mystery. The score is also highly dramatic when it needs to be, whilst never getting in the way. Give it a listen –
3. The flashbacks
This was an interesting addition to this adaptation, ensuring that nothing is left to the imagination in Rochester’s fascinating backstory. It emphasises the sensory nature of memory, with each flashback to his times in Paris and Madeira rich in colour and shot with sweeping camera movements. It’s also almost exaggerated – are we seeing these memories through Rochester’s memory, or is this how Jane imagines it from his telling? These flashbacks are a great utilisation of what screen adaptations can uniquely offer.
2. The two lead actors
Ruth Wilson, then a relative unknown, took up the weighty role of Jane Eyre to much media intrigue. She had only one professional screen credit to her name at the time and with little else to go on, her striking looks caused much discussion before the series aired. Wilson proved to be a perfect choice, perfectly embodying Jane’s inner conflict whilst her slightly unusual face made her stand out from the beautifully bland Blanche Ingram. She’s since deservedly moved onto bigger things, from Saving Mr Banks to the hit Showtime series The Affair. This is the series that really started her career though and this clip is a great example of how she truly understands her character (let’s not think about what happened next, ok?) –
Toby Stephens on the other hand, was another unusual choice for Mr Rochester. Having already starred as a villain in the James Bond film Die Another Day, he came from acting royalty as the son of Maggie Smith. Nevertheless, his looks weren’t classically handsome, and he had an impressive background in Shakespearean productions. All this came in handy as he turned in a fantastic performance as the complex Edward Rochester, embodying him with a yearning rage that few other actors have really managed. He doesn’t forget the manipulative side of the character either, as this clip shows so well –
1. Their chemistry
Whilst it’s all very well to have two lead actors nail their separate roles, the chemistry between Jane and Edward is the knife edge on which every adaptation must balance successfully. Fortunately, Wilson and Stephens have sizzling chemistry, making the rapid transition from a working relationship to something romantic actually believable. It’s often something that adaptations trip up on, but this Jane Eyre makes the most of the actors compatibility to really sell the attraction building up under the surface.
Take for example the scene after Rochester’s bed has been set on fire. It’s a moment that’s fairly true to the book, but it’s the two leads breathy passion that really lifts the scene. It’s easy to forget to breathe too as you revel in how their relationship has taken a new turn. Likewise, the amazing proposal scene is the heart of the entire series and the top reason why I love it so much. Check it out below (and weep along with me) –
Do you agree? What’s your favourite Jane Eyre adaptation? Let us know in the comments!