Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast on Film

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast (Film versions): When anyone mentions the tale “Beauty and the Beast,” I immediately think of the Disney film. And is it any wonder? Colorful and brimming over with catchy tunes and whimsical characters, it’s a delight for the eyes and ears.

There are other film adaptations, of course, Beastly being the most recent. Fifteen minutes into it, I walked out. The word for the film is inane. Poor acting and vacuous dialogue dominated. The main character didn’t match the title description at all; he just looked like he’d been taken unawares by a tattoo artist obsessed with plant roots and computer chip designs. The director obviously thought he didn’t look that bad, either: one scene showed the shirtless hero working out his abs. Anyway, after that scene and hearing the characters discuss for the third time whether it would rain tomorrow or not, I had had enough. I also watched another film adaptation when I was about seven that featured a man in a creepy hairy costume.

But I digress.

The first half hour of the Disney version introduces us to Belle, the beautiful and independent intellectual who yearns for excitement in her mundane life. She almost verges on whininess. It’s understandable: there’s no one there she can relate to, excepting maybe the book-shop owner. But when – thanks to her father’s lack of common sense in travel plans – she finds herself in a magical castle inhabited by cheerful furniture and a fearsome beast, Belle throws herself on the bed and mopes.

Belle, you’ve got adventure. So stop whining.

She does eventually take my advice and finds the Beast is a kindred spirit. And you can’t help but like a person (or creature, I should say) who owns a library the size of a football field or two.

A note on the beast’s character: he is emotionally vulnerable, parallel with the original story. When faced with the prospect of life without her, he loses all interest in it. Belle, on the other hand, balances her relationships. She cares most for her father, and we get the sense she could live without the Beast and still have a fulfilling life.

Throughout the tale, Lumière and Cogsworth, the film’s secondary characters, provide laughs and excellent entertainment, especially during the film’s highlight song, “Be Our Guest.” Just thinking about this scene makes me happy. The entire soundtrack is flawless, but this is my favorite. Next in line would be “Gaston.” He may be sexist, ignorant and arrogant, but does he have a voice! And a swell cleft in his chin.

The film has its dark side nearing the end, as most Disney films do: Gaston’s plot to force Belle to marry him, the march to Beast’s castle, and finally the fight between the two. But (overlooking the transformed Beast’s rather effeminate appearance) everything ends perfectly and the main characters live happily ever after.

This is, without a doubt, Disney’s best animated film.

Liz on Beauty and the Beast, Disney’s animated classic:

I think the phrase “animated classic” describe the movie quite well. It’s animated, and it’s…well…classic. The story, with its independent heroine and non-love-at-first-site romance, is unlike the other Disney animations. The musical score is fantastic (I still love to sing the songs), and the secondary characters Mrs. Potts, Chip, Cogsworth, and Lumiere are so entertaining themselves I don’t mind when the story takes us away from Belle and Beast.

As strange as it may sound, one of my favorite parts of the movie is the prologue. There’s something about the narrator’s voice and the music (which reminds me of Saint-Saens’s “The Aquarium”) that is enchanting. Sometimes, when I need a break, I’ll watch the prologue and the first song. Speaking of the first song, I want to read the book Belle is given. It sounds like a fun adventure/romance story.

I was cleaning out my closest at home a while back and found my Beauty and the Beast coloring book. One of the few pictures colored in it was that of Belle in the field of dandelions. Even as a kid I connected with Belle’s yearning for adventure and her desire to be understood.

As I was writing this post, I had to stop and ask myself why, when I watch the movie, I cheer for the Beast, instead of Gaston, to win Belle’s heart. After all, both the Beast and Gaston are arrogant and not always cordial to those around them. Perhaps, it’s because of the hint of the outcome in the title, or compassion for Beast’s suffering, or perhaps it’s that Beast is set up to change and Gaston is not. It’s interesting how we are directed to consider characters in a certain way.

Since Beauty and the Beast is one of my favorite Disney movies, I was very excited to buy it on DVD recently. Only, I wish they had not added in the “Human Again” scene to the new special edition; there was a reason it was left out of the original release—it’s not as good as the other scenes.

What do you love or dislike about the film versions of Beauty and the Beast?

Favorite Romances: Beauty and the Beast

First off, I feel I should let you know (I just discovered this a few years ago) that Disney did not invent the story behind their animated classic Beauty and the Beast. The movie is based on the classic French tale La Belle et La Bete. Granted, they changed it considerably, but they did not invent it any more than they invented Cinderella or Sleeping Beauty, though they did an excellent job of presenting those stories visually. If you knew this, I apologize for being patronizing, but many people don’t know it, so I decided to mention it.

Since Jaz and I usually discuss the written story on one day and the movie versions on another, we’ll talk about Disney’s Beauty and the Beast later this week and the written stories today.

Beauty and the Beast: The story

Jaz on Beauty and the Beast:

When I was a little girl, I dreamed Belle married Gaston. I was Belle, of course, and as we both stepped into the wedding coach, I looked back and saw the Beast standing there, shoulders slumped and with the most sorrowful expression in his blue eyes. Remorse – or was it guilt? – flooded me for an instant. Then I laughed at him and settled into the coach.

Gaston’s character is only present in the Disney movie version, but what if she HAD married some other guy for his looks and rank? So many other fairy tale heroines did the same. No matter which version of Beauty and the Beast you read (and countless exist), one thing remains unchanged: Belle falls in love with the Beast – in spite of his repulsive exterior – over time as she learns more of his character. It’s what sets Belle apart; every other girl fell in love at first sight or kiss.

As for the father, I was never too fond of him. Growing up, I was taught never to pick someone else’s flowers without their express permission. And yet there he is, an older male, wandering into a stranger’s garden and picking the MOST BEAUTIFUL ROSE IN THERE. If I were the owner, I’d be angry too. And then to save his own skin (in some versions, anyway), he lets his daughter go live with a seemingly ferocious beast. Forever.

Of course, the Beast could have shown a little more kindness. But imagine what state you’d be in if you were transformed into a hideous creature and then cooped up in a spell-bound castle for decades. And then some stranger tramps into your garden and mangles your prized rose bushes. It’d be enough to turn anyone into a needy, demanding monster with anger management issues.

In spite of (or perhaps I should say because of) these character flaws, Belle ends up having it all: the handsome prince, her family, all the riches her selfless soul never desired, and – the best part – a garden full of roses she can pick whenever she wants.

So maybe it is a good idea to pick flowers from strangers’ gardens after all …

Note: If you’re looking for a handy website with different versions of the story, this is a good one: www.pitt.edu/~dash/type0425c.html

Liz on Beauty and the Beast:

I hate to reference Wikipedia, but they have a detailed article on Beauty and the Beast covering the different story versions, plays, and movies. It and the website Jaz mentioned are good places to start if you’re interested in learning more about the story. A translation of the most well-known version of the classic La Belle et La Bete  tale by Jeanne-Marie Le Prince de Beaumont is available here.  This story is essentially a fairy tale for governesses to tell their young female charges to encourage them to consider a man’s virtue and amiable temperament above his wit and physical attractiveness. It’s an entertaining story with a good lesson, but the main reason I like it is because of the longer adaptations it has spawned.

Beauty by Robin McKinely is an excellent retelling of the classic story. A merchant loses his fortune and moves with his three daughters to a small village in the mountains. He loses his way a business trip and finds himself at a castle inhabited by invisible servants who take care of his every need. He picks a rose for Belle as he leaves and is accosted by an angry Beast. Beast demands the man stay there forever or send his daughter to stay in exchange for stealing the rose. Belle insists on going and, of course, gradually and unwilling falls in love with Beast. As part of his curse, Beast must ask her to marry him every evening. With no Gaston character to cause trouble, Belle’s growing difficultly in refusing the evening proposals supplies a good bit of the romantic tension.

The Merchant’s Daughter by Melanie Dickerson: I just read this book and loved it! It is set in Medieval Europe. The daughter of a once wealthy merchant is forced, due to her family’s debts, to become a servant to Lord Ranulf, a temperamental man with a maimed arm, many scars—emotional and physical—and only one eye. He frightens Annabel as first, but she soon comes to admire him because he treats his servants fairly, he protects her from the lecherous man her brother tried to force her to marry, and he lets her read his Bible—a rare treasure in those days. The story’s not so much about Annabel overcoming her aversion to Lord Ranulf’s looks but about him overcoming his distrust of beautiful women and his fear that he could never be loved because of his scars.

Why do you think Beauty and the Beast is such a popular story? Is it because of the surprise happy ending? Or the fresh feel of a tale that’s not about a beautiful girl and a handsome guy? Or because—like Pride and Prejudice­—it’s about two people who had no intention of falling in love?

Favorite Romances: North and South by Elizabeth Gaskell

Jaz on Elizabeth Gaskell’s North and South:

In order to adequately express my thoughts on North and South, I have laboriously drawn it out on a paint program that took me six whole hours to complete:

The giant green thing, by the way, is not my torso, but a hideous green sofa I do not possess. Also, technically I’ve been watching all these films on my computer, since my DVD player broke down and I have yet to buy a new one.

Irrelevance aside, BBC’s North and South is a brilliant miniseries involving class warfare, fair employer/employee practices, living conditions among poor working classes, workers’ unions and – in the midst of all this – a budding romance. Not having read Elizabeth Gaskell’s novel, I don’t know how it compares to the original text. So (obviously) I’m skipping my usual rant.

One of the things that struck me about this miniseries was the dramatic shift in color palettes after Margaret and her family move to “the North.”

Helstone, “the South,” consists of warm brown dirt paths winding among a verdant, sun-drenched landscape dappled with quaint cottages and yellow flowers.

In “the North,” everyone moves about on grey brick under a perpetually-overcast sky. Grays, browns and blacks close in on every side. No one smiles much; why would they? There’s no reason to smile.

I didn’t quite understand what it was Mr. Hale disagreed with theologically that compelled him to quit the vicarage and move to an unknown city. I’m hoping the book will shed light on this.

Nicholas Higgins is one of the first characters Margaret meets on her arrival, and the most honorable. He knows his own weaknesses and tries to improve on them, possesses a strong will and respect for others regardless of their status, isn’t afraid to be honest and direct, and helps any person in need. I sometimes wish she had stayed with him instead; Mr. Thornton, while handsome, romantic and open to change, is a little too temperamental for my tastes.

The casting is exceptional and the cinematography visually stunning and artful. Of all the miniseries, this is my favorite, for its plot depth, social issues, character development, visual artistry, acting, dialogue and romance. Long list, I know. But they all deserve a mention… as does Joy Joyner, the actress playing Fanny Thornton, who willingly supplied comic relief in an otherwise serious drama.

And getting to see Margaret and Mr. Thornton finally end up together at the end was totally worth watching the four hours in one sitting.

Liz on North and South:

I when tell someone about North and South I generally tell them three things: 1) This is a British movie and has nothing to do with the American Civil War series of the same name. 2) If Charles Dickens had written Pride and Prejudice, this would be it. 3) It is a fantastic movie. You should watch it.

Aside from the romance between Margaret and Mr. Thornton, the life and working conditions of factory workers during the industrial revolution makes North and South an interesting watch. Poor Nicholas and Bessie Higgins capture my attention almost as much as Margaret and Mr. Thornton. With likeable characters, a satisfying romance, plenty of plot twists, and a glimpse into a time and place so different from my own, the four hour length of the movie doesn’t bother me at all.

I only have one protest—Mr. Thornton is a little too violent. I don’t like to see the hero kicking a guy on the floor. Granted, cotton dust is an explosion hazard, so the danger everyone in the factory was in due to the worker’s lighted cigarette was real, but I think dragging the guy through the factory and tossing him into the street would have been enough. But life wasn’t pretty and genteel in “the North,” so I guess we can’t expect the hero from “the North” to be genteel, though he is handsome. Despite the violent outburst and being rude everyone now and then, Mr. Thornton is an admirable man—he works hard, cares about his workers, wants to improve himself, and loves Margaret and looks after her despite her refusal of his proposal.

What are your thoughts on North and South?

Favorite Romances: Film versions of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice

Jaz on the film versions of Pride and Prejudice:

The latest film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” (2005) has a lovely soundtrack and … hmmm… let me think what else … Oh, yes. Beautiful scenery.

There. My positive comments have ended.

In this film,Elizabethalways appears slightly disheveled, hair carelessly pulled up into a loose bun. She walks barefoot among the chickens, gazes earnestly at Darcy from the start and almost kisses him in the first proposal scene. Darcy isn’t any better. He wanders around wet fields at ungodly hours with his shirt half open and – what’s worse – doesn’t appear proud at all. He just looks perpetually sad, confused and awkward. Bingley is a buffoon, and Jane appears completely one-dimensional. Ms. Bingley is too modern. I liked Mr. Bennet, but then again, who wouldn’t like Donald Sutherland in that role?

The Bennets are poor country bumpkins. They live in a creaky, dark home and walk pigs through the hallways (for what reason, I never quite figured out). They attend country dances in barn-like edifices, and apparently can’t afford more than one dress forElizabeth.

This film may be romantic, but is entirely inaccurate. If they had released this film under another name with different characters, I might have possibly maybe perhaps liked it.

And speaking of inaccuracy, we know come to the 1940 adaptation.

The costumes are off by several decades, Elizabeth and Darcy fall for each other almost from the start, and Elizabeth doesn’t visit Pemberly with her aunt and uncle.

I love this film anyway; I’m overcome by nostalgia every time I watch it.

The actors play their roles beautifully – especially Mrs. Bennet and Mr. Collins. Mr. Darcy looks exactly as he should. It’s the only adaptation where he actually lives up to the book’s description.Elizabeth’s character has been changed, but Garson is so likeable it doesn’t grate on the nerves like Kiera Knightley’s interpretation. Wickham “simpers, and smiles, and makes love to us all,” and Bingley is also attractive (why do the subsequent adaptations always have particularly plain Bingleys?). Humorous and a delight to watch, this film should not be taken too seriously.

On the other hand, the 1995 miniseries can be taken seriously and doesn’t suffer from it in the least. Five hours long and detailed to perfection, it’s evident the creators knew their Jane Austen literature. The sets are lovely and elaborate, and the actors play their parts well. I just wish it had a handsomer Darcy, a more genuine Mrs. Bennet, and a little bit more spirit in the Darcy/Elizabeth scenes; they seemed rather cold to me.

And on the subject of cold … Darcy must have had a wet shirt/bath clause in his contract, I think. Twice they show him bathing, and as for the pond scene… I’m sorry, but I just don’t find Colin Firth that attractive. Very few people agree with me on this, though.

Also, if a man in a clean white shirt dives into a cow pond full of algae and debris (you can see it in the shot), he would NOT emerge with the shirt in the same condition.

Minor quibbles, of course. This miniseries is by far the best adaptation out there. So go watch it now – and do tell me what you think of Colin Firth’s wet shirt.

Liz the film versions of Pride and Prejudice:

I think Jaz does an excellent job of critiquing the three most well-known film versions Pride and Prejudice, but I’ll add a few comments of my own.

The 2005 version: Charlotte, instead of being plain and sensible, seems ugly and coarse. She tells Lizzy she will marry Mr. Collins and then yells “Don’t you judge me, Lizzy. Don’t you judge me.” All Lizzy does is swing over a mud hole in the farmyard. And do Aunt and Uncle Gardener really leave Lizzy at Pemberely? First, Lizzy presumptuously spies on Darcy and a not very shy Georgiana, then we see her walking across the moors—back to the inn where she’s staying with her aunt and  uncle? Let’s not even talk about the cold hands scene.

The 1940 adaptation: It was my introduction to the story and so is my favorite version. The characters are delightful. Mrs. Bennet is amusing instead of annoying to watch. Mr. Darcy is proud, but we quickly realize he’s not bad at heart when he takes his “lessons with the darts” so well. The party at Netherfield was completely made up but was true to the characters and very enjoyable. I rather like Aunt Katherine’s character change at the end of the movie. I wish the version included Aunt and Uncle Gardener and the visit to Pemberley. No version has portrayed Aunt and Uncle Gardener quite right. I think of them as looking like Mr. and Mrs. Westing from the 1996 Emma.

The 1995 miniseries is the most accurate, and I love it for that reason. I do have a few minor quarrels with it though. Colin Firth’s Mr. Darcy is rather too quiet. For instance, when he sees Lizzie as she is walking down the lane at Hunsford, he merely stares at her and gallops off. The real Mr. Darcy stops and walks with her. He doesn’t say much, but he does stay with her (of course, the real Mr. Darcy is on foot, not on horseback). And then there’s Mr.Darcy’s portrait at Pemberley—he’s not smiling in it! It’s a small detail, but it’s a romantic one. When the portrait was painted Darcy’s father was still alive, so Darcy was happy, life was good. Now he only smiles that way when he looks at Lizzy. Why alter the scene to make him frown?

What are your opinions on the film versions of Pride and Prejudice?

Favorite Romances: Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Jaz on Pride and Prejudice

The first time I heard Pride and Prejudice read aloud, I laughed.

I’d already seen the 1945 adaptation starring Greer Garson and Sir Lawrence Olivier – it was my favorite film – but when my sister read Mr. and Mrs. Bennet’s verbal exchanges aloud as we sat at the dinner table, I knew I had to read the book for myself. And as soon as possible.

I was probably 11 or so at the time. I remember because my mother said I was too young to understand it and would have to wait a bit. Oh, the trials of being young!

When I’d matured to the ripe old age of 13, I took it hungrily from the shelf and devoured every word. I hated Mr. Darcy as Elizabeth did, cringed with her, commiserated with Wickham, discovered the truth with her and finally fell in love with Darcy. Since then it’s been on my list of favorite literature. I’ve read it countless times, seen three different adaptations and a Bollywood spin on it (very inaccurate and entertaining) …

But I will not read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

Unless, of course, Liz asks me to.  (Liz: I would never ask you to make that kind of sacrifice! But I must admit to being curious about it.)

What can I say about the novel that has not already been said by learned scholars, mediocre authors and terrible bloggers alike?

Nothing. So I’ll point out just one thing: Mr. Bennet doesn’t exclude Jane when he describes his daughters as “silly and ignorant” with not “much to recommend them.” I’ve always wondered at it. Jane may be good, he seems to say, but she has no character, no spirit. Not like his “little Lizzy.” Jane does as she is told, whether she agrees with it or not. In the end she ends up pleasing her parents by marrying the rich man she conveniently loves. Mr. Bennet jokingly congratulates her:

“You are a good girl … You are each of you so complying, that nothing will ever be resolved on; so easy, that every servant will cheat you; and so generous, that you will always exceed your income.”

Jane responds with, “Imprudence or thoughtlessness in money matters, would be unpardonable in me.”

But she ignores the first accusation. Interesting.

I think Elizabeth would have married Darcy even had her parents refused.

Also …

Mary and Mr. Collins would have made a great couple. Wouldn’t you agree?

Liz on Pride and Prejudice: As much as I talk about Pride and Prejudice, you’d think writing about it would be easy, but it’s not. There’s so much to say I don’t know where to begin. So, instead of covering the entire book, I’ll focus on one aspect of the novel: why men should hate Mr. Darcy.

As a loyal Jane Austen fan, it annoys me when someone makes a derogatory comment about her novels or characters. Mr. Darcy is a frequent target of such attacks. However, I recently realized men should hate him. Why? Because he’s tall, handsome, wealthy, and has a gorgeous estate? No, though, like Elizabeth Bennet, Pemberley would tempt me to marry him. Is it the insidious way Mr. Darcy inspires women with the hope of being the object of an unconquerable and persevering love? Most men, understandably, would prefer a choice in the lady they fall in love with and to receive encouragement from her instead of rejection.

That could certainly be grounds for dislike of the long-suffering Mr. Darcy, but the real basis for men hating him is his willingness to change when he realizes his faults. This is the draw of Mr. Darcy for women (for me, at least).

Overall, Mr. Darcy’s character is excellent, but he has one main flaw—pride. Pride that leads him to treat those beneath him in position or talents with contempt. Yet, when he is confronted by his sin, he admits it (begrudgingly at first, but he does admit it) and does something about it. Men should hate Mr. Darcy for setting a high standard. He puts to shame those content to be “pretty good,” who excuse their faults by saying “that’s just me.” I might add Elizabeth Bennet sets the same example for women.

Brief Comments on a Few Characters:

Elizabeth and Jane Bennet: I wish I were as sweet and selfless as Jane and as independent and witty as Elizabeth.

Mr. Darcy: An imperfect man with an improving character.

Charlotte: I like her, but I just can’t fathom anyone being as unromantic in her hopes and dreams as her.

Mr. Collins: Yikes

Mr. Wickam: Despicable

Lydia: Poor, foolish girl.

Kitty: I have high hopes for her.

Colonel Fitzwilliam: I would like to know more about him. I’m disappointed he wouldn’t give Lizzy a serious thought because she wasn’t rich enough to support the second son of an earl, but I can’t help but like him anyway.

Georgiana: I wish Jane Austen had written a sequel to tell of Georgina’s courtship and marriage.

Mary: I feel for her as the plain sister, but her attempts to get admiration only made things worse for her.

What are your thoughts on Pride and Prejudice? Do you know of any other reasons why men should hate Mr. Darcy?

Jane Eyre: The movie versions

Jaz on Jane Eyre, movie versions:

While there are quite a few film adaptations of Jane Eyre (including a 70’s disaster), I have limited my review to three: the 2011 version starring Mia Wasikowska and Michael Fassbender, the 2006 BBC miniseries with Ruth Wilson and Toby Stephens, and the classic 1944 film starring Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine. I will refer to them only by their year.

 

1944: First thought: “WHO THE HECK IS DR. RIVERS?” St. John, Rochester’s foil, has been demoted to a kindly doctor at Lowood. The only thing they got right here are his good looks (which is more than we can say for all the other versions).

Joan Fontaine is too timid. Jane’s passion and independence don’t register, and she comes across more as a doormat than anything else. For example, instead of meeting St. John and his sisters, she goes back to live with her aunt. Jane would never do such a thing. Not ever. She would also sooner drop dead than write a letter to Mr. Brocklehurst asking for help, as she’s shown doing in one scene.

Also, while the film appears to narrate from the book’s text, in reality the lines were added in.

Orson Welles is so over the top — I love it! In one scene he walks stormily onto Thornfield’s grounds with a furrowed brow, his cloak billowing in the wind. Thematic music swelled around him. I laughed in pure delight.

The cinematography is spectacular. The movie’s use of light and shadow lends a gloomy atmosphere throughout—note the scene where young Jane stands alone on the stool. And Bertha would make Bronte proud: she has the long wild hair, creepy laughter (although it sounds more like the Wicked Witch of the West), scratches walls and attacks in fits of crazed rage.

All in all, I enjoyed this version.

A brief intrusion from Liz: I have only seen a few clips of this film. Yet, Jaz’s review matches my impression based on those clips: Orson Welles makes a great Mr. Rochester, but Joan Fontaine’s Jane lacks the strength and independent spirit of Jane in the novel. I felt like she was still playing Mrs. de Winter from Rebecca.

 

2006: I have only three objections to this British miniseries.

1. St. John is, yet again, rather plain and agreeable. Furthermore, Jane consents to his proposal, which although she got pretty close, she never actually did in the novel.

2. The scene shifts abruptly after the cancelled wedding. First Jane is telling Rochester “We’ll talk in the morning,” then all of a sudden she’s sleeping on a rock in the middle of nowhere. For those of us who’ve read the book, it takes a moment to adjust, but it’s bewildering for anyone else.

3. While staying with St. John and his sisters, Jane keeps getting flashbacks of a makeout session with Rochester after his lunatic wife confession. Supposedly Rochester was trying to convince her to stay. But it’s completely inaccurate and uncharacteristic of Jane.

Oh, and Blanche Ingram is a blonde instead of a dark beauty.

This version is by far the most faithful to the original text; naturally you can fit a great deal more into 228 minutes than the standard film length. On the whole, it successfully conveys the chilling symbolism, and commingling passion and restraint described in the book.

 

2011: If I had to describe this film in two words, I’d choose understated and poetic. Sunlight and lovely scenery dominate. Passions here never seem to emerge from characters’ calm exteriors.

The director chose to begin the film with Jane’s departure from Thornfield, something I hadn’t seen in other versions. It then flashes back to her childhood and recent history. It was effective and dramatic.

After that nothing is quite as good. Jane and Rochester’s relationship doesn’t really develop; they chat a few times and then suddenly land in the burning bedroom scene. Strangely, Grace Poole is never mentioned here, or anywhere before this. The proposal lacks spirit and emotion; it’s about as bland as a wonderbread ketchup sandwich. Only one scene shows passion, and that’s after Jane discovers the truth and Rochester explains. Of all the versions I’ve seen, this particular scene is the closest I’ve ever seen it get to the novel.

Also, St. John is too friendly and likeable here, not to mention plain.

This film is easy on the eyes, clean and light, so if you’re looking for a happier Jane Eyre, this is your best bet.

The following is how I rank the three versions:

1. 2006

2. 1944

3. 2011

Favorite Romances: Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë

So, the announcement you’ve all been waiting for: What are our top four romantic classics? You’ve probably gathered by now that Jane Eyre is one of them, but I’ll give you the full list anyway.

They are (not necessarily in order of favorites, just in the order we’ll talk about them): Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë, Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen (it got the most votes by those who commented), North and South (the BBC miniseries based on the book by Elizabeth Gaskell, which has nothing to do the American Civil War), and Beauty and the Beast (Walt Disney’s version and the classic fairy tale). Thanks for your comments!

Now for Jaz’s and Liz’s opinions on Jane Eyre:

Jaz on Jane Eyre

Warning: This article contains spoilers.

Jane Eyre is so much more than just a romance. Bold feminism, stinging social commentary, moral dilemmas and delicious scandal leap from its pages. Not to mention lunatic wives locked up in the attic.

Jane’s character inspires: she emerges strong and independent in spite of her troubled past. I admire her moral integrity, passion and – most of all – her stance on gender equality.

Rochester is all about unbridled passion. He’s had numerous affairs, possibly fathered an illegitimate child or two and considers adultery a perfectly reasonable option. But he’s also intelligent, generous and loving.

Note that Jane marries Rochester only after she’s financially independent … and Rochester has lost Thornfield, his sight and an arm to boot. How feminist is that? Brontë was ahead of her time.

Aside from Brocklehurst, I strongly disliked the emotionally-repressed St. John. While not truly a villain, he does manipulate Jane for personal gain.

Other thoughts:

Were Jane and Rochester truly unattractive, or just when measured against contemporary ideals? Brontë describes Rochester as dark, muscular and broad-shouldered, with “granite-hewn features” and beautiful eyes. Jane is slender, pale and petite, with green eyes and hazel hair.

Doesn’t sound so bad to me. I’d take a Mr. Rochester look-alike any day.

The bedroom fire scene is rather scandalous. Rochester wants her to stay (“What, you will go?”), and Jane is confused and elated — but definitely not shocked or repulsed.

The element of creepiness in this novel is fantastic. Demonic laughter, footfalls vanishing into the dark, creaking doors, mysterious fires, foreboding nightmares and dark mansions … As Jean Webster, author of “Daddy Long-Legs” writes, “It’s melodrama of the purest, but just the same, you read and read and read.”

My hat’s off to melodrama.

Liz on Jane Eyre

I must admit to being skeptical about Jane Eyre before I read it. I saw a movie version (I can’t remember which one) as a kid and received the mistaken impression that Jane left a really nice guy to go back to the married Mr. Rochester. I was disappointed in her. Fortunately, at the encouragement of Jaz, I decided to give the book a try a few years ago. I started reading it and my skepticism became enthusiasm. Forgive the cliché, but I couldn’t put the book down. Jane isn’t just the protagonist, she’s a heroine, and even Mr. Rochester turns out a pretty decent hero. With mystery, romance, plenty of plot twists, and main characters I can admire, Jane Eyre is one of my favorite romances.

Notes on Select Characters: Jane’s strength of character, independent spirit, and ability to overcome tragedy are inspiring. Some may disagree, but I believe Jane went back to Thornfield at the end to check on Mr. Rochester, not to live with him. And who wouldn’t go back after those eerie calls? However, I must admit to getting impatient with her when she refuses to accept the beautiful clothes and jewels Mr. Rochester offers her after they’re engaged. I understand her reasoning, but I still want to shake and her and say, “He’s your future husband. Take the stuff and get out of your drab Lowood clothes. There’s nothing wrong with a poor woman marrying a rich man so long as she isn’t marrying him for his money.”

There’s certainly plenty to censure in Mr. Rochester, but there’s plenty to like as well, especially, strangely enough, when you contrast him with St. John Rivers. Both men are charitable and St. John has a cleaner past, but Mr. Rochester loves where St. John brings to mind I Corinthians 13:3 (“And if I donate all my goods to feed the poor, and if I give my body to be burned, but do not have love, I am nothing.”).

Adele: Sweet but frivolous girl without whom Jane would never have met Mr. Rochester. It’s interesting that Jane finds love and a home after going to take care of an orphan like herself.

Bessie: Gotta love the outspoken but affectionate maid character.

Diana and Mary: Every girl should have friends like these.

Most loathsome character: Mr. Brocklehurst: Self-righteous villain who misuses Scripture to endorse his lavish lifestyle and feelings of superiority.

Favorite Parts: I love it when Mr. Rochester is about to call Jane “my darling” or some other affectionate name and has to stop himself at “my”. And, it’s not a part exactly, but the depiction of Jane and Mr. Rochester as being the perfect and only match for each other is what makes Jane Eyre one of my favorite romances.

Reader Questions: What do you think of Jane and the other characters? What is your favorite or least favorite part of the novel?