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Thursday, September 21, 2006

Jane Eyre 2006 Article

From The Herald, more Darcy comparisons but then- oh! Some seriously insightful commentary from Toby Stephens and Susana White, and Sandy Welch!:

With one gallant, water-logged stride, Colin Firth trannsformed himself from actor to icon and ensured that the character of Mr Darcy lived on in the hearts of a new generation of women. More than a decade after Firth emerged, dripping, from the water in a BBC television adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, the BBC is preparing to unveil that other brooding nineteenth-century ladies' man – Mr Rochester.


Despite such a rich heritage, however, Stephens was surprised when he got the role. "When I heard the BBC were making Jane Eyre I was fantasising about playing Rochester, but I imagined someone more along the lines of Rufus Sewell playing him. Obviously he was busy, and I got it. In terms of my career, it is one of the best things that has happened to me."Like many viewers, Stephens was familiar with the story of Jane Eyre from reading Brontë's original as a child. "It was one of those books that I loved reading. Rochester is such a fantastic part, and I love the way Sandy Welch has penned this adaptation." Much to his delight, he arrived on set to find that director Susanna White, who directed last year's highly successful Bleak House, was happy to let him have a hand in shaping the final character. "Susanna was always ready to listen to my ideas and would often persuade me to do something I wouldn't have thought of. Female directors tend to be much more malleable than their male counterparts."The fact that Jane Eyre has been adapted for the screen no fewer than 18 times is testament to its popularity. It has also created various interpretations of the leading man – some more sympathetic than others. "I remember the Orson Welles film vividly because he was such a compelling Rochester. He dominated the film," says Stephens, who admits to feeling daunted by the prospect of recreating such a well-known character. "I feel a responsibility because so many people have read the book and have their own image of how Rochester will look and behave."Stephens spent much of the filming in riding breeches and boots and a billowing white shirt, as befits the male lead of a nineteenth-century story. He also grew his sideburns and had hair extensions. Thoughts of being the next piece of period eye candy, however, seem to be the furthest thing from his mind.

"The problem with doing period dramas is that you do look like a weirdo for months on end. I had these huge sideburns which I longed to shave off towards the end, but in the beginning I was desperate for them to grow so I could see what I would look like with them."His temporary change of image did make for some amusing moments during filming. "The extensions kept on falling out at really inopportune times," he recalls. "I was at a dinner party sitting beside this woman who I didn't really know, and at one point she looked down at my shoulder in horror and asked: 'What on earth is that?', pointing at a dead extension which had fallen out. It had a horrible yellow waxy blob on the end."

Screenwriter Sandy Welch is perhaps better placed to comment on the charms of Mr Rochester. Having worked on North and South, set in Victorian times, and the Bafta-award-winning adaptation of Charles Dickens's Our Mutual Friend, she understands the appeal of strong male characters in period dramas. "Rochester has always been a bit of a pin-up," she says with a laugh. "He is undoubtedly one of my favourite characters in literature, and you can't escape the fact that a lot of the classic novels are very popular not only because they have sympathetic female characters, but very fanciable males, too. "I don't think you can avoid that, but I don't think it is necessarily the dumbing-down of the book, because the novel is about a passionate affair; this fantastic relationship."Welch admits that she has created a sympathetic version of Rochester in keeping with what she believes was the intention of Brontë. "In the book he is very surly, distant and grumpy, but he is also very good in company. He's a glittering host – he sings and has a great sense of humour. He is a multi-faceted character. The aim of the book is not to make Jane a foolish girl by falling in love with this horrible fellow."While it is the intense clinches and smouldering passions that linger in the mind, the central love story is based on a solid, enduring relationship, and this prompted Welch to opt for a four-hour drama as opposed to a feature-length film. "We wanted to do it in four hours to give us time to establish the special relationship they have. It's more a meeting of minds and intellect as opposed to a servant girl saving her master because she has fallen in love with him."Welch believes that the key to the story's enduring popularity is the fact that it leaves its heroine in a state of contentment. "She writes from 10 years on and she is happy. She has kids and lots of money, Rochester has got his sight back and she spends her time productively. For a nineteenth- century heroine, she ends up pretty well. She has a relationship which is passionate and intellectual, which is not far off a modern ideal."

As with Pride and Prejudice, it is the seemingly modern quandaries in which the characters find themselves that chime with contemporary readers and viewers. "Jane is a very modern girl who makes her own living," says Welch. "She is not unlike a Barbara Taylor Bradford heroine in her resilience. She is someone who is going to get ahead without anybody's help, without her background and without great beauty – that makes her an incredibly sympathetic heroine."Tasked with the job of making this much-loved character come to life is newcomer Ruth Wilson, who graduated from the London Academy of Music and Dramatic Art barely a year ago. Wilson, 24, has appeared in Channel Five's Suburban Shootout, but this is her first major role. Her down-to-earth approach seems to have already won her fans among the cast. Stephens says of his co-star: "When I heard I was playing opposite this newcomer, I thought it could go either way. She could be some girl who would crumble under the pressure and be a nightmare, or she could be over-confident and awful to work with, so I really didn't know what to expect. When I met her I liked her immediately, and when we started working I realised she is a brilliant actress – and not fazed by any of it."

Much of the story, however, is based not on what Jane does, but on what she thinks – and this presented a challenge for Welch. "It is a difficult book to dramatise," she says. Jane doesn't have a confidante or a diary, so it is very difficult to convey her excitement on screen. We didn't want to do it as a voiceover, because it can put you in a comfortable place if you have this voice telling you that everything is going to be okay. We had to think of other ways to make our scenes as vivid as the book. We've got a lot of red in our adaptation. The camera work is dynamic and we shot entirely on location, so it doesn't feel entirely like a studio piece." The majority of the 13-week shoot took place in the Peak District and features the splendid Haddon Hall, near Matlock, as Thornfield Hall. "One of the things the director and I did straight away was to put as many scenes as we could outdoors," says Welch. "We wanted to make the estate like a world of its own, so once Jane arrives, it's a new world which opens up to her. This is where she begins to fall in love with Rochester."


siansaksa said...

Very nice article! Thanks for posting it!

Somehow, when a man tells that he really liked reading Jane Eyre, especially as a child, it sounds a little bit unbelievable to me! :)

But it seems that Toby really did his homeworks, and, no matter what he thinks about the book, he is nice enough to say what we want to hear :)

Brontëana said...

It is a little too good to be true, but I'd rather believe it than not ;) I am very much encouraged. And from the response to far, it looks like people are going to like this unless they do something really stupid in the remaining episodes. ;)