As Gothic As It Gets

Mia Wasikowska, 21, has critics swooning over her turn as the screen’s latest Jane Eyre. But playing Charlotte Bronte’s romantically tortured heroine has been a rite of passage for Hollywood ingénues almost since movies were invented. Here, some highlights from the more than 20 screen adaptations of Jane’s story.

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Virginia Bruce & Colin Clive, 1934

The first “talkie” version is only an hour long; characters like Jane’s childhood friend Helen and Rochester’s brother-in-law, Mr. Mason, didn’t make the cut.

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Joan Fontaine & Orson Welles, 1944

Welles brooded so well, he managed to push Joan’s Jane into the shadows. But outshining both stars, in the role of Helen, is a then-unknown child actress: Elizabeth Taylor.

Susannah York & George C. Scott, 1970

Scott was on an acting roll during this period—in ’71, he won a Best Actor for Patton. Lovely York provides a suitably delicate contrast in a British film that became an American TV hit.

Zelah Clarke & Timothy Dalton, 1983

It may be Jane’s story, but this exquisite BBC version belongs to Dalton, considered by many to be the sexiest Rochester ever.


Charlotte Gainsbourg & William Hurt, 1996

You get double the ingénues here, when Anna Paquin pops up as an ultra- rebellious young Jane.

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Samantha Morton & Ciaran Hinds, 1997

This super-steamy version, with an unrepentant Rochester almost violently trying to stop Jane from leaving Thornfield Hall, polarizes viewers. But give credit to the great Irish actor for exploring the depths of his complicated character.

Ann Wilson & Toby Stephenson, 2006

Susanna White, who so masterfully directed the 2005 Masterpiece Theater Bleak House, produces an equally riveting adaptation here—and at four hours, there’s time to tell the full story!

Mia Waskowska & Michael Fassbender, 2011

Almost unanimously praised by critics, the latest adaptation comes with a big casting bonus: Dame Judi Dench as the housekeeper who tries to warn Jane off the romance.


Related: The Top 100 Books Every Woman Should Read Part I: The Classics

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First Published March 16, 2011

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