Nobody Does It Better

The lovely Lynn of the comments has for some time now been naggi... erm, strongly encouraging me to watch the new BBC version of Jane Eyre. I'll be honest: I'm not a huge fan of the Bront√ęs. Ever since the first time I saw a film version of Jane Eyre, I thought that she was a hopeless milquetoast, the prototype for a doormat and while we are on the characters in that story, Rochester? At best he's a little mad, at worst he's an unmitigated jerk. Sure, I'm as fond of dark and brooding men as the next girl, but heroes such as Rochester and Heathcliff push it into dark and tortured territory to the point of being more than a little unhinged. Remember the adage: never lie down with someone was more problems than you. Even when I was young, before I learned that fact the hard way, I looked at Rochester and every instinct told me to run screaming for the hills. Yet Jane keeps coming back. These days, I would send her to a shrink. Give me Jane Austen, thank you very much. Her heroines have some spunk. (and yes, I'm ducking to avoid being pelted with rotten tomatoes by Bronte lovers)

(As an aside, the best thing about Wuthering Heights is what Dave Allen did with it. He's the man who taught me that smart-funny is infinitely more attractive than pretty much anything else - I've had a big, honking crush on him since my early teens, when we would watch his show every Saturday and I was beyond upset when he died in 2005. The show was a mix of stand-up – well, sit-down, really – and skits and one of the recurring ones was variations on Heathcliff and Kathy forever running across the moors screaming each other's name. Quicktime example here. More of his work here, including his famous sign-off line: “goodnight, thank you, may your god go with you”. How can you not love a man like that?)

However, getting back to the main track, when I saw that my local PBS station was showing that latest BBC version of Jane Eyre, I had to watch it because I'm pretty sure that if I didn't, Lynn would stop sending me beautiful pictures of Ireland. And am I ever glad I did.

By the end of the first 30 minutes or so, I was sort of enjoying myself - BBC could make paint drying seen interesting - but still very much stuck in my previous perception of the characters. Jane (Ruth Wilson) was plain, self-effacing and boring (plus, I kept getting completed distracted by Wilson’s long upper lip) and Rochester (Toby Stephens) is arrogant, cranky and rude. After about an hour, that started to change. Rochester starts to slowly become more attractive and charming and as you increasingly understand how he was trapped once, long ago and has remained trapped for a decade and a half, you begin to see how Jane represents everything he thought he'd never have. By the end of the first of the two-hour episodes, I'd fallen for him, just as Jane did and found myself wanting to help him (clearly, I also need therapy). And speaking of Jane. There is this moment where she sits down to do is self-portrait and looks at herself in the mirror, truly seeing herself for the very first time and in that moment, we also see her for the first time and realize that she is exquisitely beautiful. The actress brilliantly portrays her steady sanity that so attracts Rochester with a stillness that's magnetic.

This interpretation has been adjusted a bit for modern sensibilities. Jane has more spunk than the original material perhaps indicates, some of the language appears somewhat modernized and there is an understated steaminess that completely sneaks up on you. Purists may have issues with that, but any production of any play, opera, ballet, book will be interpreted differently - that's what makes it art. And somehow, the whole thing seeps into you, making you discover these two people, just as they are discovering each other. Brilliant.

I should have known. After all, the BBC is not only generally wonderful, but also created the ultimate Pride and Prejudice - the six-hour miniseries with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth. Yep. Nobody does it better.


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