When the credits rolled at the end of a sold-out showing of Jane Eyre this past weekend, my friend and I turned to each other and said "huh." I think we were both torn between loving the movie and feeling vaguely let down by it. First and foremost, Mia Wasikowska is fantastic as Jane. I've seen 2 other adaptions (the 2006 version with Ruth Wilson and the 1943 version with Joan Fontaine), and Wasikowska's portrayal is by far my favorite. She perfectly embodies the strong will and spirit that hides beneath the plain (OK, plain for an actress in a big budget movie) exterior. The exchange between Jane and Rochester when he calls her into the drawing room on his return to Thornfield ("do you think me handsome?" "no, sir.") crackles with energy and you can see his regard for her growing as she speaks with him.
I also found Michael Fassbender's Rochester to be wonderfully complex. Yes, he is enigmatic and often harsh (I've never liked in the book and movie how he openly dislikes Adele), but there is a tenderness here that makes him more human than other versions of the character. When Bertha flies at him he restrains her almost compassionately, and it is a testament to Fassbender's acting that he conveys how Rochester despises Bertha and his awful mistake in marrying her but cannot act cruelly towards her. In the scene where Rochester tries to convince Jane to stay with him after their failed wedding you can sense his anguish and the almost herculean strength she needs to overcome his offer.
The cinematography work by Adriano Goldman is stunning. Thornfield Hall comes alive, both in the dreariness of winter and the lightness of spring and summer, and I really got a feel of what it might be like to live a monotonous life in an isolated mansion with only an older woman and child for company. This version definitely amps up the gothic elements and the creepiness of the house and is well-served by strong supporting characters (Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers and the fabulous Judi Dench as Mrs. Fairfax are the two obvious standouts, but Sally Hawkins is also wonderfully icy as Mrs. Reed).
So why didn't I absolutely love it? Obviously, trying to condense a 500-page book into 115 minutes on screen means that certain parts of the story will be edited out, but I was puzzled by the scenes that were omitted. The most glaring one was leaving out that Jane and the Rivers siblings are cousins. Instead, Jane gives away 3/4 of her inheritance due to their kindness in taking her in (at least that's what I assumed, as it never was really explained). Also, while there is a tender scene with Jane returning to the remains of Thornfield and the now-blinded Rochester, there is no epilogue to show that they married and he eventually regained sight in one eye. I think if I hadn't read and enjoyed the book so much, I would have absolutely adored this movie. As such I enjoyed it immensely but felt it couldn't measure up to the powerful and affecting emotion of Bronte's original story.