Masterpiece Theatre: Jane Eyre

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9-11 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 21 and Sunday, Jan. 28
KCET (Los Angeles)


It is easy to understand -- and almost as easy to forgive -- a filmmaker's instinct to embellish Charlotte Bronte's classic "Jane Eyre." There's an urge to make the heroine more beautiful than the one Bronte created and to make Edward Rochester, the man of her dreams, more dark and mysterious than Bronte described him.

So here's the good news: The new adaptation written by Sandy Welch and directed by Susanna White doesn't add new colors to Bronte's romantic novel. Rather, it brings out all the shades and hues of the original portrait, restoring it to its full glory.

But wait. The news gets better. The careful restoration applies not only to the characters but also to the breathtaking cinematography. Scene after scene transports viewers across time and space to a place made vivid and real. By doing all this, the robust, two-part, four-hour "Masterpiece Theatre" program raises the bar for future "Jane Eyre" productions to a level that will not be easily hurdled.

The key to getting this story right is, first and foremost, finding the right Jane. This was accomplished with the discovery of newcomer Ruth Wilson, who acts as if she was born to play the part. Neither a dazzling beauty nor plain, Wilson exudes confidence. As Jane, she has to reveal her inner emotions without expressing them outwardly, which she does effortlessly. On top of all that, Wilson has a Mona Lisa smile, a slightly mysterious glow, that makes her a riveting presence. White's direction brings out all of those qualities, drawing us in to the enigma of Jane as much as to the story itself.

Bronte's novel, published in 1847, is about a parentless child who is poorly treated by the wife of her late uncle and, ultimately, sent to live in a cold and loveless orphanage. Next we meet Jane as a young woman. She has somehow survived the experience and managed to get a good education as well. She advertises for a governess position and is hired to care for the spirited ward of Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens), the wealthy master of Thornfield Hall.

Jane and Mr. Rochester fall in love, but naturally, there are unforeseen complications that intrude on their happiness and push them apart. Their attraction occurs too quickly to be fully savored, but there's no doubt about the chemistry between Wilson and Stephens. All the while, White advances the story with artistic camera angles, appropriate lighting and a keen eye for detail.

MASTERPIECE THEATRE: JANE EYRE
PBS
A BBC/WGBH Boston co-production
Credits:
Executive producers: Phillippa Giles, Laura Mackie, Rebecca Eaton
Producer: Diederick Santer
Line producer: Helga Dowie
Director: Susanna White
Teleplay: Sandy Welch
Adapted from the novel by: Charlotte Bronte
Director of photography: Mike Eley
Production designer: Grenville Horner
Editor: Jason Krasucki
Music: Rob Lane
Costume designer: Andrea Galer
Set decorator: Clare Andrade
Cast:
Jane Eyre: Ruth Wilson
Edward Rochester: Toby Stephens
Lady Ingram: Francesca Annis
Blanche Ingram: Christina Cole
Mrs. Fairfax: Lorraine Ashbourne
Grace Poole: Pam Ferris
Mrs. Reed: Tara Fitzgerald
St. John Rivers: Andrew Buchan
Jane Eyre (age 10): Georgie Henley
John Eshton: Aidan McArdle
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