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Category:    Home > Reviews > Drama > Literature > British TV > Mini-Series > Jane Eyre (2006/WGBH/BBC + 1944/20th Century Fox)

Jane Eyre (2006/WGBH/BBC + 1944/20th Century Fox)


Picture: C+     Sound: C+     Extras: D/C+     Episodes: B-     Film: C+



Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre has more adaptations shot on film and video than most of the Bronte Sister’s works.  The story is all too familiar, which is why it is a classic.  The first version we reviewed can be found at the following link:





The BBC has done a whole new version in HD, while Fox has issued their 1944 version and though they have their moments, neither are as good or as interesting as the 1973 version we covered.  The new 2006 BBC production offers Ruth Wilson in a decent performance as Jane and an effective Toby Stephens as Edward Rochester.  The 1944 version originally intended for direct production by David O. Selznick stars Joan Fontaine as Jane and Orson Welles as an unusual Rochester.


The 2006 version just drags a bit, is not shot with as much energy or has production design that is as rich.  Locations are not bad, but this only works in parts, feels like we have seen it all before and takes forever to pick up.  It tampers with the book in odd ways, but seems purist as compared to the liberties the 1944 version directed by the capable Robert Stevenson and written by no less than Aldous Huxley (!), Stevenson and John Houseman.  Selznick skipped direct participation fearing he was repeating his work on Rebecca by Alfred Hitchcock.  He still sent his famous memos to producer William Goetz for “guidance” anyhow.


At only 96 minutes, it has less time to do anything with the book the way the two BBC mini-series did, but has some oddball moments that make it worth a look.  It also has the efficiency of the Classical Hollywood machine behind it which chops up classics, but adds interesting moments to them.  Selznick should have just cancelled this and Welles seems out of his element, which is rare.  Other cast including Margaret O’Brien, Agnes Moorehead and uncredited appearances by Erskine Sanford and Elizabeth Taylor are a plus.


Then there is playback, which is about even despite 62 year time span between them.  Though the elements can be dated at times, the 1.33 X 1 black and white image on the 1944 version was shot by George Barnes (Bulldog Drummond, Gold Diggers Of 1935, Rebecca, Meet John Doe, Spellbound) who gives the film a distinct look to some extent.  However, it is not his best work, but a professional job with great grasp of film imaging just the same.  The 2006 version is shot in soft-looking digital High Definition and has limited color, sometimes looking as monochromatic as the 1944 film.  Few of its shots are memorable.


Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo is available on both versions, with a 2.0 Mono option on the 1944 film and no surrounds on the 2006 version.  The 2006 version also has a flat sound mix and mixed music, while all soundtracks (four if you count the Spanish and French Mono) sound good for their age and sport one of the earliest feature films scores of the immortal Bernard Herrmann.  So if 2006 is flat and clear, 1944 is somewhat aged, with character and exceptional music.  This includes an isolated score/sound f/x track, while the WGBH version has no extras.


Other extras on the Fox DVD include a WWII film Stevenson did for the federal government called Know Your Ally Britain, two audio commentaries (one with director Jim McBride & Margaret O’Brien, the other with film historians Nick Redman, Steven Smith & Julie Kirge), a making of featurette, storyboards, three stills galleries, restoration comparison and the original theatrical trailer.  Scholars will want to see both, the 1944 version is more loaded with extras and music fans will like the Herrmann score alone, but the 2006 mini-series covers the book better.  The 1973 version is still the best so far.



-   Nicholas Sheffo


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