Orphaned at a young age and abandoned by her aunt to the extravagant cruelties of an orphanage, Jane arrives as governess at Fairfax Hall as a self-possessed young woman of fortitude, discipline and no little spirit. “I am a free human being with independent will,” she tells her new employer, Mr Rochester (Michael Fassbender), a claim so radical for a woman to make at the time that it borders on sinfulness. Happily, Rochester is all in favour of what he describes as ‘lawless passion’, and thus begins a romance that, according to the story, has the capacity to undermine the caste system of the period’s class structure. It’s a satisfying tale on many levels. Fukunaga, working from Moira Buffini’s script, incorporates elements of proto-feminism, anti-authoritarianism and socio-economic critique, all of which are faithful to the gothic tropes of Brontë’s novel, with the tentative romance between Rochester and Jane the prism through which every other aspect is filtered. Much depends, then, on the leading pair delivering a convincing relationship as they evolve from master and servant to mutually besotted equals, and there’s a palpable frisson when they appear on-screen together, not least because the screen fairly quivers with repressed sexuality. But the course of true love ne’er doth run smooth, as they say, and Rochester’s secrets, along with the audience’s foreknowledge of his impending betrayal, haunts the lovers’ every word. Close attention to period detail and strong supporting performances from Judi Dench and Jamie Bell enhance proceedings, with the result that Jane Eyre is the most compelling romance of the year to date.
A ROMANCE of a very different kind is explored in Friends With Benefits (16s), in which Dylan (Justin Timberlake) and Jamie (Mila Kunis) commit to a relationship without any commitment beyond that of mutual pleasure. But can a man and woman engage in regular sex without those dastardly emotions getting in the way? First World problems abound in a story broadly similar to No Strings Attached from earlier this year, but Friends With Benefits is by far the superior film, due in large part to a sparky, irreverent script from Keith Merryman, David Newman and writer-director Will Gluck. Chock-a-block with zingy one-liners about the war of the sexes, celebrities and contemporary culture, the script facilitates a free-wheeling tone that Timberlake and Kunis embrace in some style. Meanwhile, Richard Jenkins provides a sub-plot of emotional heft in playing Dylan’s father, who is suffering from Alzheimer’s, and does so with his customary understated excellence.
MELISSA GEORGE is carving out a niche for herself as the go-to actress for the woman-in-peril drama, and she finds herself in dire straits again, as the title suggests, in A Lonely Place to Die (15A). Here she plays Alison, a woman who meets peril halfway as she embarks with friends on a mountain-climbing weekend in the Scottish Highlands, although their adventure is rudely interrupted when they discover a young Croatian girl who has been buried alive. A man-hunt ensues, with Alison & Co the prey, in a movie that is a white-knuckle thriller for the first hour or so, particularly if you suffer from vertigo. All told, Julian Gibley’s film is a fast-paced thriller until the story falls off a cliff for the last act.
KEN LOACH’S kitchen-sink tale of youthful rebellion, Kes (12A, 1960), stars David Bradley as troubled schoolboy Billy Casper, who finds beauty in the post-industrial wasteland of urban Yorkshire when he tames a kestrel falcon. A bleakly honest appraisal of its time and place, the film is blackly funny and heartbreakingly cruel. Worth seeing, alone, for the hilarious sight of the portly, track-suited Brian Glover emulating Giles, Bremner and the rest of the ‘Dirty Leeds’ team of the era as he roams the school football pitch kicking lumps out of his pupils. Showing at the IFI.