Jane Eyre is own of my very favourite books and the mid-19th century is perhaps my favourite time period in terms of costume, textiles and art so I thought that I would use this an excuse to do my own year of bicentenary events in honour of Miss Brontë.
Along with producing some more Brontë theme products for the shop I’ll be doing a few blog series’ and reviews of Bronte related and inspired things.
First off I decided to review and discuss the 2011 version of Jane Eyre with Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender. While I really like Ruth Wilson as an actress and I tried watching the 2006 BBC version with her and Toby Stephens I just couldn’t get it into it. The characterisation of Jane just didn’t feel like Jane to me. The 2011 version however felt much more accurate and closer to the book.
Before I get onto talking about the costumes properly I want to talk briefly about the lighting and colours of the film. Listening to the audio commentary Carey Fukunaga discusses the importance of the lighting and his choices in terms of really setting the tone for entire film.
For me there is a gold haziness to the colours and lighting during her time at Thornfield which allows this stretch of narrative to read as almost a dream sequence or not quite real, most notably in the proposal scene, the gold lens flaring tying beautifully with the brewing storm of foreshadowing of the terrible events later in the film/novel which could be attributed to Jane’s acceptance of the initial proposal.
The golds come back up in moments of keen happiness and content in Jane’s life – summer afternoons spent with Helen, when she finds solace and family with the Rivers’ siblings and when she hears Rochester calling her across the moors after the fire – drawing her back to Thornfield.
Ok onto the costumes! The novel was published in 1847 and we know that Jane herself is relaying the story to us 10 years after the final events of the novel. It can be surmised that her time at Thornfield takes place in the 1820s or 30s as she mentions portraits of both George III and the Prince Regent being displayed in Inn near Thornfield where, in the novel she meets Mrs Fairfax. This would mean that the clothing in the novel would be smack bang in the Romantic era of large gigot sleeves and ankle length bell skirts.
In the commentary however Fukunaga explains how he and costume designer decided to set the film in the 1840s – the time of the novels publication as basically they disliked the styles of the 20s and 30s. The ugliness and exaggeration of the dresses, they felt suited Aunt Reed much more than Jane herself.
I can understand this choice as I would argue that the understated style of the 40s tied more with Jane’s character. Shifting the time period of the film slightly allows us to see a shift between Jane’s clothing while living at her aunts, the uniforms of Lowood and then finally Jane’s own sense of style and choice at Thornfield and Moor House.
Class is important in the novel and I think the costumes do a wonderful job at expressing the different levels displayed in the film. Aunt Reed is clearly well-off and of a certain upper class of society, we can see this in the interiors of Gateshead but also the opulence of her clothes and those of her children.
Her first meeting with Rochester in the woods outside Thornfield shows the innate difference of clothing between levels of servants
“You are not a servant at the hall of course. You are-” He stopped, ran his eye over my dress, which as usual, was quite simple: a black merino cloak, a black beaver bonnet; neither of the half fine enough for a lady’s maid. He seemed puzzled to decide what I was; I helped him. “I am the governess.”
A slight change in costume comes really at the arrival of her wedding dress, as Adele plays with the lengths of veil she whispers to herself “I will be Jane Eyre no longer.”
In a way this is true, when found by St John Rivers she calls herself Jane Elliot and when given her own home and work as a school mistress she find a sense of style in small accessories that bridge the gap between her life at Thornfield and her new independence .
When she suddenly becomes an heiress is when we finally see Jane’s ultimate style. The golds of the lighting and production design are brought into her final gowns which show wealth we haven’t seen before but still humble and simple. It shows Jane’s humility while allowing her to take a small amount of pride in her appearance now she has the means.