Zefferilli's film version of the oft-filmed Brontë novel is surprisingly short on romance. In the prototype Gothic romance, the eponymous young heroine (Charlotte Gainsbourg) takes a post as a governess at the vast abode of Mr. Rochester (William Hurt), a tall, dark, wealthy stranger, whose darkened brow betokens a stormy past. For whatever reason, Zefferilli has chosen to abandon his florid brand of romanticism in exchange for quietly tasteful production values without much in the way of expressiveness. Eschewing the evocative power of myth and archetype, he opts for realism and psychology in what feels like a romance between a shy bookstore clerk and a saturnine professor. To that end, he's cast the film well. Gainsbourg makes the heroine's quiet goodness and gift of insight believable, while Hurt emphasizes Rochester's pain and complexity, scanting the aggression and passion which is an integral part of the character. The excellent cast includes Anna Paquin, Joan Plowright, Billie Whitelaw, John Wood, and Maria Schneider.
by Michael Costello review