Orson Welles Fassbender is not, but he does have some potential as Rochester. Unfortunately, it never materialises, probably through poor direction. Apart from the odd flash here and there, he lacks Rochester's world-weariness and bitter edge. There is something lacking also in the supposed passion between the two, and absolutely no sense of that desperate urgency in Rochester's longing for Jane, especially when she decides to leave, and no real sign of his struggle with his own conscience. Neither is he given the chance to test or tease Jane convincingly over Blanche Ingram. What's more Fassbender perhaps appears too young and certainly too conventionally good-looking to play Rochester and, as always in screen adaptations, Jane is far too pretty to say her words about being poor and plain and little! As always, again, the screenwriter too often thinks she knows better than Bronte herself when it comes to dialogue; sadly, she doesn't, and therefore we never quite get the sense and tone of Jane's bold plain-speaking to Rochester which so shocks the deferential Mrs Fairfax and which explains his fascination with her.
There are also a number of unfortunate serious "mistakes" in the adaptation. It's unforgivable in this gothic novel to leave out the episode of the veil torn in the night and equally so not to exploit the mysterious presence in the house. The changes in Mrs Fairfax's words and role add absolutely nothing and her presence at the end is inexplicable. And surely Jane has to be almost out of sight when the guests speak disparagingly about governesses? Rude they may be..but maybe not quite that rude!
Jamie Bell completely lacks the gravitas of St John Rivers, his "marble brow" and cold but noble commitment to his mission. We don't see any of Jane's struggle to decide how to respond to him. St John does not meet Jane's refusal with petulant bad temper in the novel but with powerful attempts to appeal to her conscience over and above her notion of love.
Sally Hawkins is good as young Mrs Reed, although one would have liked to see some sign of incipient guilt feeling when she dismisses Jane from her sight. However, when dying, she is hopeless. She conveys no real sense of the lifetime of tormented guilt which we see in the novel. One feels as though the scene was rushed and the first poor attempt simply allowed to remain. Again, this is surely slapdash direction, certainly not inability on Hawkins' part.
Why no Bessie...or hardly any? The Bessie-Jane relationship is important, as is the Miss Temple-Jane friendship. And why on earth is Jane made to teach little Adele stuff which, in the circumstances (a little French girl learning English), would be simply ridiculously difficult and unlikely.
Why hardly any Grace Poole?!
And how could Simon McBurney, brilliantly though he played the role, convey the sense of hugeness of Mr Brocklehurst for young Jane? Not big enough!
So what is good??!
Mia Wasikowska is charming. She is excellent as Jane, within the limits of the direction. Young John Reed is brilliantly played by Craig Roberts in his brief appearance, and Romy Settbon Moore as Adele is just perfect! It's always a pleasure to see Judi Dench although she's hardly challenged as good old Mrs Fairfax...and given some daft lines to boot! Amelia Clarkson as Young Jane is convincing too; a superb young actress.
But the overwhelming strength of the film lies in the magnificent screenplay, the hugely evocative landscapes, large and small, the brooding Yorkshire moors and mists,the flashes of flowers and splashes of blossom against the grey, the cold and solitary buildings, the spooky candle-lit interiors.
It really is worth seeing the film just for this! But if you know "Jane Eyre", don't go expecting to see it!