There have been quite a few film versions of Jane Eyre, Charlotte Brontë’s brooding melodrama of romance, madness and cruelty, but this literate and highly individual film remains far and away the best. The screenplay was reasonably faithful to the original and provided memorable roles for Orson Welles as the tormented Edward Rochester and Joan Fontaine as the shy, orphaned governess Jane Eyre.
Welles, inevitably, dominated the drama: Jane Eyre , which came only three years after his extraordinary debut in Citizen Kane, features one of his best performances. Given this competition Fontaine did very well indeed to make an impression at all: in fact she gave a fine, perfectly judged performance to more than hold her own against Welles. Notable in support are Henry Daniell, as Brocklehurst, the cruel overseer of the orphanage; and Margaret O’Brien, the ward of Rochester. Peggy Ann Garner, too, was first rate as the young Jane, and Elizabeth Taylor made one of her earliest screen appearances as Jane’s unhappy consumptive childhood friend.
Technically Jane Eyre is impeccable and the work of British-born Robert Stevenson is assured. The studio-bound recreation of Victorian Yorkshire – in particular Rochester’s Thornfield manor house – is superb and is brilliantly complemented by the moody monochrome cinematography of George Barnes.
USA / 1944
Director: Robert Stevenson
Writers: Aldous Huxley, Robert Stevenson, John Houseman, from the novel by Charlotte Brontë
Cast: Orson Welles, Joan Fontaine, Margaret O’Brien, Peggy Ann Garner, John Sutton, Sara Allgood, Henry Daniell, Aubrey Mather