Director Franco Zeffirelli stresses emotional realism over gothic chills in this restrained adaptation of Charlotte Bronte's classic. The screenplay, by Zeffirelli and Hugh Whitmore, remains relatively faithful to the original story, beginning with a condensed look at the troubled childhood of young Jane (Anna Paquin) and her mistreatment by a cruel aunt (Fiona Shaw). The bulk of the film centers on Jane as an adult (Charlotte Gainsbourg), a prim governess who accepts a position at Thornfield Hall caring for the young Adele (Josephine Serre). There Jane also must deal with the estate's head, Edward Rochester (William Hurt), a mysteriously brooding yet oddly alluring older man. She finds herself drawn to Rochester, but their potential romance is threatened by Jane's fears and Rochester's internal torment. Rather than the spooky visuals of earlier adaptations, Zeffirelli and cinematographer David Watkins opt for a subdued gloominess, placing emphasis on Gainsbourg's and Hurt's wounded portrayals. Fans of the gothic will likely find Zeffirelli's interpretation anemic in comparison to the passionate 1944 version with Joan Fontaine and Orson Welles, though others may appreciate the more naturalistic and faithful approach.
by Judd Blaise synopsis