Charlotte Brontë’s classic novel has been adapted many times since its publication in 1847. The gothic romance has dazzled readers and film enthusiasts with a tale that so eloquently details the hardships of love and social classes. Twilight Time proudly presents, with only 3,000 units available, the 1943 version of Jane Eyre, which critics and audiences have hailed as the finest adaptation to ever grace the silver screen. 70 years after its original release, let’s investigate how well this classic has aged…
Jane Eyre centers on a young woman’s struggles at a brutal orphanage before growing up to navigate the world on her own. Joan Fontaine (Rebecca) portrays Jane as an adult as she takes a position as a governess at the mysterious Thornfield Hall. Orson Welles (Citizen Kane) plays Edward Rochester the brooding and mysterious owner of the estate. The two strike up an unlikely relationship that breaks down social barriers while dark secrets are uncovered.
Admittedly, I never had the pleasure of reading the original source material or experiencing other film versions before witnessing this 1943 adaptation. I imagine the latter being for the best as I can hardly imagine other iterations besting this black-and-white beauty. Jane Eyre strikes an immediate chord as the viewer is exposed to Jane’s harsh upbringing under the strict eye of her dreadful aunt. Shortly after, Jane is whisked away to an impoverished orphanage for children where she is unjustly treated yet again. Jane is also witness to the death of her only friend at the somber orphanage (a young, uncredited Elizabeth Taylor) solidifying the never-ending tragedy in her life. Luckily, many years pass and Jane grows up and happily applies for a position as a governess at Thornfield Hall. Joan Fontaine (Suspicion) projects a wonderful, yet reserved performance as Jane Eyre. Fontaine is cautious and quiet in her dealings with others, harboring the years of darkness she endured. Orson Welles (Touch of Evil) commands the screen as the stern and mysterious Edward Rochester. Welles’ hypnotic gaze and stocky build makes a strong impression as his character is also hoarding a dark past .
The combination of Fontaine and Welles gives the film its energy but it’s the effective lighting and compositions of Director of Photography George Barnes (Spellbound) and the artful eye of Director Robert Stevenson (Old Yeller, Mary Poppins) that give the film its life. The use of shadows and gothic atmosphere gives the film shades of German expressionism that look marvelous. As the film progresses, Eyre and Rochester continue to dance around their attraction for one another while Rochester is noticeably torn between his place in society. While, we never lose sympathy for Jane based on her past, it is Edward’s manner that keeps the audience intrigued with what he is suppressing. Eventually, the two can no longer hide their love for one another and a marriage is planned. Rochester’s secrets are revealed just as a happy ending seems in sight. The reveal felt slightly unexpected, albeit not particularly exciting. That said, the film does a fine job resolving itself after throwing the audience for a questionable loop. Based on research, Jane Eyre is not a perfect adaptation of the Brontë novel but that hardly matters when the result is of this ilk. Jane Eyre is a touching, Victorian story about love at a time when your social class was of utmost importance. Draped in gothic atmosphere and executed by a stellar cast, Jane Eyre is a beautiful picture that deserves to be remembered 70 years after its original release.
Twilight Time presents Jane Eyre with a 1080p transfer in 1.33:1 aspect ratio. The film gets off to a bumpy start with black levels appearing hazy but still watchable. The transfer improves with the black-and-white photography looking most impressive during silhouetted set pieces like the orphanage. Detail is decent in close-ups of the actors but never achieving the highest results. That said, no original elements for the film have survived so taking that into consideration, Jane Eyre looks as good as one could have expected.
The DTS-HD Master Audio Mono mix is sufficient with dialogue coming across as clearly as can be. Instances of distracting hisses or pops were not noticed on the mix. The track shines when Bernard Herrmann’s (Psycho, Taxi Driver) effective score kicks in.
- Audio Commentary with Biographer Joseph McBride and Actress Margaret O’Brien
- Audio Commentary with Film Historians Julie Kirgo, Nick Redman and Steven C. Smith
- Locked in the Tower: The Men Behind Jane Eyre: Orson Welles and Director Robert Stevenson’s careers are discussed by film historians and Stevenson’s family members.
- Know Your Ally Britain: A unique inclusion of wartime propaganda that Director Robert Stevenson created for the United States during World War II. The piece runs an impressive 42 minutes.
- Original Theatrical Trailer
- Isolated Score
- Booklet Essay: An informative essay by Julie Kirgo along with some stills from the film is included.
Jane Eyre was a surprising cinematic treat based on the beloved Victorian novel by Charlotte Brontë. Having no previous experiences with the story, the 1943 adaptation won me over as an effective romance tale soaked in gothic atmosphere and delivered by some of cinema’s most beloved talents. Twilight Time did a wonderful job preserving this 70-year-old gem while providing terrific special features and a very scholarly and detailed essay. Critics and audiences alike have hailed this as the best version of Jane Eyre and I don’t see myself ever disputing that.