PLOT: The classic Brontë story about a nanny and her employer
BOTTOM LINE: A familiar story, told in the familiar way
CAST: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench
"Jane Eyre" begins as you'd expect a movie called "Jane Eyre" to begin, with our tearful heroine running across a sodden English moor. Fog rolls in, as do violins, in time for young Jane to fall in the mud and bemoan her sorry state.
If the motion-picture industry had existed in 1847, the year Charlotte Brontë's novel appeared, it might have produced an adaptation much like this one. It's as if all the updates, satires and reappropriations of various Empire romances didn't exist: Never mind that Jean Rhys refigured "Jane Eyre" as a post-Colonial critique in the 1966 novel "Wide Sargasso Sea," or that Amy Heckerling transformed Jane Austen's "Emma" into the teen-flick "Clueless," or that the popular "Twilight" novels have inspired an improbable literary subgenre with titles like "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" and "Jane Slayre."
This new "Jane Eyre" is as straight and heavy as a fireplace poker. Mia Wasikowska ("Alice in Wonderland") is the orphaned but uncomplaining Jane, who becomes governess to a little girl under the care of the wealthy, wretched Edward Rochester (a convincingly intense Michael Fassbender, "Inglourious Basterds"). He likes Jane's intelligence and candor, though what she likes in him we never quite see. Kindly housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax (Judi Dench) watches them with a worried eye.
The acting and writing (by Moira Buffini) are fine throughout, but director Cary Joji Fukunaga ("Sin Nombre") buries everything under gray stone and dark tapestry, as if aiming to please the ghost of Alistair Cooke. Even that guardian of high culture might have dozed in his armchair during this one.