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Is the new 'Jane Eyre' doomed at the Oscars?

March 15, 2011 | 11:11 am

Jane Eyre"Jane Eyre" starring Mia Wasikowska looks like a real winner, scoring 78 at Metacritic and earning $45,579 per screen in four movie theaters last weekend. But what about how it may be received (or not) at the next Academy Awards? Beware: The many past film adaptations were as doomed at the Oscars as the characters in Charlotte Brontë's gothic heart-breaker.

But, first, let's focus on the good news: critics' love for the latest screen rendition. The New York Times says that director "Cary Joji Fukunaga's film tells its venerable tale with lively vigor and an astute sense of emotional detail." USA Today declares: "In its superbly spare execution, the newest adaptation of Jane Eyre is both faithful to Charlotte Brontë's classic and distinctively original."

The L.A. Times' Kenneth Turan particularly likes Michael Fassbender as Rochester, the brooding overlord of Thornfield Hall, who wins the heart of his young ward's governess: "Fassbender energizes not just his scenes with Mia Wasikowska's accomplished but inevitably more pulled-back Jane but this entire film …. Wasikowska acquits herself well here, but without a lot of access to the book's florid recounting of her rich interior life her performance is of necessity restricted to the narrow view the world has of her."

There have been 18 feature film adaptations of "Jane Eyre." None was nominated for Oscars, including notable versions starring Joan Fontaine (1944), Zelah Clarke (1983) and Charlotte Gainsbourg (1996) in the title role. There have been nine TV adaptations, none of which earned Emmy nominations for best TV movie or miniseries or best drama program, not even the beloved 1972 version starring George C. Scott and Susannah York, who both earned bids for their performances, but lost. The most recent TV rendition received six Emmy noms in 2007, but almost all in tech categories. Star Ruth Wilson reaped hosanna reviews from TV critics, but she was snubbed by TV academy voters.

"Jane Eyre" is distributed by Focus Features, which recently garnered Oscar attention for the film adaptation of another classic 19th century novel by a noted female British writer: Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice." It was nominated for three tech trophies plus lead actress (Keira Knightley). Alas, it lost all four bids.

-- Tom O'Neil

Photo: Focus Features