Five Weird Versions of Jane Eyre

“I Walked With A Zombie” isn’t the only strange adaptation of “Jane Eyre.”  There have been 16 movies, 4 radio plays, 11 made-for-TV-movies, a graphic novel, and at least 15 books.  Out of all of those versions, here are the five weirdest:

Where oh where is my Oscar?  How could you give it to Ginger Rogers instead?

1) Rebecca (1940): If there is only one movie from this list that you watch, please make it this one.  Less “weird” and more “dramatically awesome,” this Daphne du Maurier story-turned Alfred Hitchcock movie tells the story of a young woman (Joan Fontaine) who falls in love with the brooding Max de Winter. (I defy you to find anybody who broods better than Laurence Olivier. He made an entire career of it.  Also, rowr.) When they move to his giant estate, Manderly, she finds herself overshadowed by the memory of Max’s completely perfect, completely beautiful, and completely dead first wife, Rebecca.  The mystery surrounding Rebecca intensifies as our heroine meets Rebecca’s not-so-subtle, totally-lesbian, how-did-this-pass-the-censors maid, Mrs. Danvers.  To summarize: this movie has mysterious deaths, possible incest, homosexual undertones, fire, and brooding heroes.  It’s basically everything you love about HBO set in 1930s England.  Watch the movie.

The poster says it all

2) Wide Sargasso Sea (1993): I was forced to read this book in high school, and I hated it.  A prequel to “Jane Eyre,” this is the tempestuous story of Rochester’s first love, and it’s full of postmodern symbolism and deconstructionism and a lot of other things that caused high school me to shrug and turn back to my copy of “The Count of Monte Cristo.”  Fortunately (or unfortunately), the movie throws all of this heavy-handed symbolism out the window in favor two people having sex for two hours until one of them goes batty.  If your thing is soft-core porn in tropical locales, this is probably your movie.  Otherwise, read the book.  Or don’t.  I wouldn’t blame you.

Baby, I’ll wuther your heights any time.

3) Sangdil (1952): And the adaptations get weirder.  This is a 1950s Hindi musical mashup of “Jane Eyre” and “Wuthering Heights,” because why rip off one Bronte sister when you can rip off two?  The basic plot is: two children fall in love, but are forced apart by their families.  She becomes a priestess for some reason and then ends up working for her former lover, but he has changed into a brooding man with a secret.  (Bronte men are required to brood.)  Unfortunately, it sounds more interesting than it actually is.  There aren’t many English-subtitled versions of this movie, so if you can find it and you’re really, really into “Jane Eyre” adaptations, then by all means go nuts.  Otherwise, eh.

Remember when Martin Short was funny? No? Me neither.

4) Jane Eyrehead (1982): I don’t know if I’m allowed to include this, but my blog my rules.  This is an Second City TV parody of “Jane Eyre,” the entirety of which you can find here.  It stars many mid-90s comedians you think you’ve forgotten about, including Jack Candy and Martin Short.  Not all of the jokes translate anymore (Mr. Rochester speaks like Rochester from The Jack Benny Show!), but it’s worth it to skip up to Eugene Levy as the priest throwing one corny one-liner after another at Jane.  My favorite: “Her origins are so low you have to limbo under her family tree!”  Zing!

The trick for the picture was to get a really short person and a really big book.

5) The Eyre Affair: This is a book, not a movie, but my blog my rules, so I’m including it.  The Eyre Affair is a book by Jaspar Fforde (best author name ever) set in a parallel universe where England is a police state still fighting the Crimean War against Russia, dodos aren’t extinct, and people can travel between novels and the real world.  Tuesday Next (best character name ever) is a Literary Detective who infiltrates “Jane Eyre” to capture the nefarious criminal Acheron Hades (second best character name ever), and in the process accidentally rewrites “Jane Eyre.”  She is aided by a less-broody Mr. Rochester, her pet dodo, and her time-traveling outlaw father.  This is basically a beach book for literature nerds, and I highly suggest it for that reason. It’s so weird, and so fun, and basically impossible to turn into a movie because many of the jokes exist in parentheticals and footnotes.  And that’s a pity, because we need better literary adaptations than “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.”

So there you have it, five alternatives to reading the actual novel “Jane Eyre.”  Have another adaptation you love?  Post in the comments section!

About Anne Marie Kelly

Classic Film history & restoration nerd. Writer of A Year With Kate and Women's Pictures for The Film Experience. Follow me on Twitter @WeRecycleMovies.
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