As Jane Eyre in Cary Joji Fukunaga's moody adaptation of the Charlotte Brontë novel, Mia Wasikowska progresses from a womanchild scared of her own shadow to one who, after a long eclipse, comes into the light.
Both Wasikowska (recently the title character in Alice in Wonderland and The Kids Are All Right) and Michael Fassbender (Inglourious Basterds) as Rochester, Jane's moody and magnetic employer, strike all the right notes. If you don't count I Walked With a Zombie, this is the 27th screen adaptation of Brontë's classic, the mother of all Gothic romances.
But the actors' unself-conscious emotionalism is overwhelmed by Adriano Goldman's atmospheric and hyperbolic cinematography, too self-conscious for the movie's good.
A seven-word review: Very good performances. Much too much weather.
Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) and screenwriter Moira Buffini begin Jane's story in the middle, as she flees gloomy Thornfield, Rochester's manor, and is buffeted by nature and human nature.
It's a more cinematic place to begin than the novel's chronology of the orphan girl dependent on the kindness of strangers, yearning for independence.
In flashback, Fukunaga shows the young Jane, cruelly used by her foster mother (sadistic Sally Hawkins), and a commodity to the head of the orphanage (Simon McBurney) where she is subsequently warehoused.
By opening their movie with the mature Jane, the filmmakers forge an emotional bond between her and the audience.
Although just a slip of a girl, this creature with the severe brown hair and the austere gray dress withstands the bitter winds. Despite the disorienting weather, she finds her moral compass.
Except for Napoleon, Jane Eyre has all the necessary ingredients for a ripping 19th-century tale, one also relevant in the 21st century.
It boasts: the heroine's conflicting desires for autonomy and love; an innocent young thing smitten with a debauched man of mystery; clashing notions of virtue and honor.
The supporting roles are nicely cast, with Judi Dench as droll housekeeper Mrs. Fairfax and Jamie Bell as earnest clergyman St. John Rivers.
Fukunaga and Buffini have just the right balance of respect and irreverence for the source material. And even though I feel that the stormy weather and thundercracks would have been more at home in a Mel Brooks parody, by movie's end I was swept away. And not by the rain.