Jane Eyre, first published on 16 October 1847, has become one of the world’s most famous novels and it has inspired several adaptations over the years. From radio plays, film releases, television series and even a ballet, and that doesn’t include the copycat stories inspired by the novel. Let’s take a look at some of the film and television releases – please note these are only the English language ones.
Jane Eyre (1910)
The first English language film adaption of Jane Eyre was a 1910 American silent short classic produced by the Thanhouser Film Corporation which was released on 6 May 1910. The film was said to have been directed by Theodore Marston, however there has been some debate as to whether this is accurate. It was one of at least eight known silent movie versions.
The role of young Jane was given to Marie Eline, a silent film child actress who starred in over 100 films for the Thanhouser Film Corporation, and the adult Jane was played by Irma Taylor. The past of Rochester was played by Frank Hall Crane who would go on to direct his own version in 1914.
The film proved to be so popular, the laboratory had to work overtime to produce additional prints to meet the demand but it secured the financial stability of the film company. When the company learned 20th Century Fox were releasing a new version of the film in 1944 with Orson Welles, they withdrew all their prints and the film is now lost.
Jane Eyre (1934)
The first sound version of Jane Eyre was released on 15 August 1934 by Monogram Pictures, starring Virginia Bruce and Colin Clive. Directed by Christy Cabanne, the film was largely panned by critics as it wasn’t very faithful to the novel and was more comedic in tone.
Jane Eyre (1943)
The first big budget version of Jane Eyre was released by 20th Century Fox on 24 December 1943 (UK) and 4 February 1944 (US). The film, starring Joan Fontaine as Jane Eyre and Orson Welles as Rochester, was directed by Robert Stevenson.
The film condenses much of Jane’s childhood years, focusing more on her time at the Lowood institution, however it is notable for an early appearance by Elizabeth Taylor as Helen Burns. Before long, Jane is on her way to Thornfield Hall to take up her new position as governess to Adèle Verans, portrayed by child actress Margaret O’Brien.
Although colour movies were becoming more popular, this film was deliberately shot in black and white to enhance the gothic ambience.
Jane Eyre (1956-TV Series)
The BBC adaptation of the novel is one of the earliest surviving complete TV series of the novel. Aware access to television sets was on the increase in the Fifties, the BBC were keen to know if their was an appetite for dramas based on classical novels so they asked Constance Cox and Ian Dallas to write a script.
Broken down into six episodes, there was plenty of scope to be true to the novel and this series was a bit with viewers. Each episode of the series was shot live and starred Stanley Baker as Rochester and Daphne Slater as Jane Eyre. Baker was one of the top British film actors during that era and Slater was a classically trained actress.
The BBC filmed other period dramas live during the early years of television but most of them have been lost so it is remarkable this series still exists even though it has not been seen for decades. You can watch a snippet on the BBC iPlayer.
Jane Eyre (1970)
In 1970, a British film version was made starring George C. Scott and Susannah York in the lead roles. The film was directed by Delbert Mann and was first released in UK theatres in December 1970. However, it was released only on television in the US.
Due to time constraints, this film also skips most of Jane’s childhood and also makes her older when she arrives at Lowood. Although very accomplished actors, Scott and York are miscast in their roles and the film suffers for it. The original film has been lost and only survives on poor quality DVDs.
The film did win an Emmy Award for Outstanding Achievement in Music Composition for the legendary John Williams in 1972.
Jane Eyre (1973 – TV Series)
The 1973 four-hour literary version was originally broadcast as a five-part BBC television series in September 1973. The series starred starred Sorcha Cusack and Michael Jayston in the title roles and was directed by Joan Craft.
As a literary adaption, the series uses dialogue from the book which some critics argued did not make for good television viewing. With its classically trained cast, the series feels more like a filmed stage version.
Jane Eyre (1983-TV Series)
Ten years after their previous adaption of Jane Eyre, the BBC adapted the book in eleven 30 minute weekly episodes. Directed by Julian Amyes, the series starred Zelah Clarke as Jane and future James Bond actor, Timothy Dalton. as Rochester.
For some fans, this is the definitive version of the book but half-hour episodes are hardly an ideal way to tell a story unless you are binge watching in a more modern era! This adaptation also adds extra material that some fans of the book may find irritating as they stray from Jane’s point-of-view.
Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre (1996)
Jane Eyre got the big budget treatment once again in this 1996 production directed by Franco Zeffirelli. The film was shot on location at Haddon Hall, Derbyshire, the first of many Jane Eyre adaptations to film there.
Sadly, the time constraints on the length on the film meant a lot of the original material had to be sacrificed, mostly notably when Jane runs away from Thornfield Hall after discovering the existence of Bertha. Yet, it manages to add scenes that weren’t in the book. The film is also spoiled by the miscasting of William Hurt who is not a very convincing Rochester.
Jane Eyre (1997-TV film)
Jane Eyre fans didn’t have long to wait to see their heroine on the screen again as a new British film adaption was shown on ITV on 9 March 1997. However, the film was criticised for changing too many scenes and for its overacting.
Jane Eyre (2006-TV Series)
The BBC adapted the novel again in 2006 as a four part series which was first shown on 24 September 2006. The series, starring Ruth Wilson as Jane Eyre and Toby Stephens as Edward Rochester, is in fact my favourite version of the book.
The series was critically acclaimed as a faithful, if not entirely true, rendition of the book with a stellar cast. Toby Stephens and Ruth Wilson were both praised for their portrayal of the main characters. The series was nominated for a whole array of awards, including four BAFTA and nine Emmy nominations, however it only won one BAFTA for Best Make-up and Hair Design, and three Emmys for Outstanding Art Direction for a Miniseries or a Movie, Outstanding Costumes for a Miniseries or a Movie and Outstanding Hairstyling for a Miniseries or a Movie.
Jane Eyre (2011)
Hollywood had another attempt at Jane Eyre in 2011 starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. The film was directed by Cary Fukunaga and was released on 11 March 2011 in the United States and 9 September 2011 in the United Kingdom.
The film opens with a scene from near the end of the book which has Jane collapsing on the doorstep of the home of St. John Rivers and his sisters. As Jane is nursed back to health, the movie flashes between her recovery, her harsh childhood and the events at Thornfield Hall. The film got generally favourable reviews but the flashback approach to storytelling wasn’t to everyone’s taste.