Jane Eyre - the 1981 Timothy Dalton/Zelah Clarke version (spoiler
Written by StephenB
(2/3/2013 6:58 a.m.)
I recently acquired this as part of HMV's firesale. I have never read the book (as an Austenite I consider the Brontes, of whom I am totally ignorant, as over-blown and over-romantic, lacking JA's purity of language, and far too keen on wild moors). I am however an admirer of the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre, with Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson - in my view the latter's performance is one of the best I have seen in any costume drama for psychological truth. So when I saw the Dalton/Clarke version at a mere £4 I thought I might as well buy it. The dramatisation and the production values are very typical of the period, stagey and slow. It is 5 hours long (having been shown in half hour episodes) This has both virtues and faults for the modern day viewer. I thought that things which gained were:
a. the period at Lowood School - much more time was devoted to this and Jane's growth from terrified new girl to educated young woman traced, with some sympathy. The 2006 version passed over this quite quickly and the transition lacked some credibility. In the recent film version it seems very strange indeed;
b. the period after Jane runs off following the marriage scene. Her discovery by Rivers, the integration into that family, even indeed the events leading up to his finding her in the middle of wild moorland, are all much more carefully set out. Also, the sequence of events relating to her inheritance are much better explained.
On the debit side Blanche Ingram becomes almost irrelevant. But the central failure is in the lead pair. Zelah Clarke is frankly just too pallid and staid in her performance. She looks too old and behaves like a woman in her thirties rather than an 18 year old. Despite a determined air there is nothing of the gradual development of love between her and Rochester, no 'spark'. And Timothy Dalton is just dreadful as Rochester. He reminded me of his Darnley in Mary Queen of Scots where he quite well portrayed a weakly handsome wretch of a consort. In Jane Eyre he looks weak in character and alternates between a whingeing attitude and abrupt rudeness. He really comes across as a most unpleasant person, and thay fatally undercuts the story.
I'd encourage anyone to watch this as a contrast to the 2006 version, but to have a realistic expectation of what they will see.