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Video: A tale of three Janes

Video | Videos that censor Christianity from classic literature

Issue: "Forbes: Right on the money," Nov. 8, 1997

The wholehearted reception of several film versions of Jane Austen's novels has inspired Hollywood to pursue other stories of the same genre. Since it takes approximately two years to go from script to screen, it's not surprising that the next wave of 19th-century British romantics is flooding big and small screens alike.

This is a welcome development when these stories are imbued with the Christian worldview that permeates the original novels-but not when filmmakers censor the Christianity and contort the plots to reflect their own humanist worldview.

Readers who appreciate Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, a heart-rending story of a young woman's struggle to grow up and find her life's purpose and place in the rigid class system of Victorian England, were sorely disappointed in last year's cinematic release, directed by Franco Zefferelli and starring a bloodless John Hurt and existential Charlotte Gainsbourg. The script put forward the politically correct view of God, women, and well-to-do gentlemen, which is to say the writer dumped the book and filled the time with clichés, desperate characterizations, and flat contrivances never raised in the novel.

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It was therefore encouraging to see that the Arts & Entertainment Network has aired a new production of the story. Consistent with the cable network's high sense of production values, A&E employed proven talent. Director Robert Young and stars Samantha Morton (Jane) and Ciaran Hinds (Mr. Rochester) handle their story with graceful appreciation of the mores and mindset of Miss Bronte's lovers.

This version of Jane Eyre's life has its successful moments, including an exquisitely restrained but evident chemistry between the governess and master, a dramatic halt to the bigamous wedding, and a truly scary lunatic. Regrettably-again-the script has rejected most of the moral content of the book, substituting Jane's generous references to Scripture with ambiguous references to "finding a way in my soul" and "living with my own conscience."

When, for instance, Jane is invited by Mr. Rochester to run away and live together, pretending to be man and wife in a foreign land, Jane tells him that she refuses because "I am worth more than that." Miss Bronte in the original novel gave Jane a better reason: "I will keep the law given by God.... Laws and principles are not for the times when there is no temptation: They are for such moments as this when body and soul rise in mutiny against their rigour."

There is available, however, a more satisfying video version of Jane Eyre that was produced by the BBC in 1985. This four-hour production was directed by Julian Amyes and stars a luminous Zelah Clarke as Jane and Timothy Dalton as the intricate Mr. Rochester. The script follows the book carefully, allowing Jane to discover true faith in the face of misery at Lowood School and to shine through with God's love toward those who would be her enemies. She tells the despicable Mrs. Reed, who confesses her treachery for fear of hell's wrath, that she has her full and free forgiveness. After Mr. Rochester's forceful invitation to live together without benefit of marriage, she turns him down with the prayer that God would bless and keep him from harm and wrong.

Her eventual reunion with Mr. Rochester, under sad but righteous circumstances, is quite moving, and, like the book, the production closes the story with an allusion to Scripture: "I am bone of his bone and flesh of his flesh." Miss Bronte's choice, however, is still preferable: "Amen, even so come, Lord Jesus!"

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