Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s novel, Jane Eyre, does stay true to the novel, but the character of Jane is underdeveloped. In the novel Jane is a very strong-willed character and is like this in the film, but her past experiences that made her this way are not explored enough for the audience to fully understand her in the film. The same goes for when Jane runs away from Thornfield Hall to when she stumbles onto St John Rivers’ doorstep. The nature of Jane finding her way there is changed, which in turn changes the audiences perception of the scene.
Jane’s early years at Gateshead and Lowood School are anything but easy. Bronte goes into much detail about this time of Jane’s life, shedding much needed light onto the hardships Jane endured. The reader learns all about the Reed’s nature and what life was like at Lowood. However Zeffirelli greatly skips over this part, condensing it into 25mins of the film, all of it mainly of Jane being at Lowood. This is not enough time for the audience to grasp and fully understand the knowledge of Jane’s character these settings bring. Jane’s time at Gateshead is very short in the film.
All that is shown of her time is being forced into the Red Room followed by meeting Mr Brocklehurst and leaving with him for Lowood. No indication is given as to why Jane is locked in the Red Room or why she is being sent to school. Life at Lowood is hard and long in the novel. There is very little food, warmth or happiness there. Although Jane does appear happier here then she was at Gateshead, she is only just content with her life. After the great illness that passes through Lowood, killing a number of students, things do change for the better a little. In the film, there is no indication of any shortages of any kind.
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The audience only sees Jane being humiliated by Mr Brocklehurst, her budding friendship with Helen and when Jane sleeps next to Helen as she dies. This all changes the audience’s knowledge and perception of Jane’s character. Zeffirelli’s film adaptation of when Jane runs away from Thornfield Hall is greatly changed. Instead of wandering aimlessly on the moors as she does in the book, Jane goes straight to St John and his sisters. She had previously met them while at Gateshead when Mrs Reed was on her deathbed. Upon arriving at St John’s house she tells him “I didn’t know where else to go”.
This doesn’t give Jane the chance to change her name, hiding her identity, like she does in the novel. Instead of collapsing on St John’s doorstep, she collapses after stepping out of a carriage. This change to the nature of the scene effects the audience’s view of just how desperate Jane is when she arrives there, she doesn’t seem as desperate in the film as she does in the novel. In the novel, after Jane recovers from her ill health, she goes on to teach the local farmer’s daughters at a school. With the job comes a small cabin for Jane to live adjacent to the schoolroom.
This gives Jane the independence and freedom she had always wanted. Unfortunately, Zeffirelli changes this as well. Instead of working at the school, Jane stays with St John and his sisters until she leaves them to find her love, Edward Rochester. This change gives Jane no independence or freedom. Ultimately, Franco Zeffirelli’s film adaptation did stay true to Charlotte Bronte’s novel, but the character of Jane was underdeveloped. The audience would not have been able to fully grasp the knowledge desperately needed to understand Jane’s character, either due to time or changes in scenes.