DVD Release Date: August 16, 2011
Theatrical Release Date: March 11, 2011 (limited); March 18, 2011 (wider)
Rating: PG-13 (for some thematic elements including a nude image and brief violent content)
Genre: Drama, Adaptation
Run Time: 115 min.
Director: Cary Fukunawa
Actors: Mia Wasikowska, Michael Fassbender, Judi Dench, Jamie Bell, Sally Hawkins, Freya Parks

If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times: Hollywood has no new ideas. For every work of original storytelling, there seem to be 20 or 30 sequels, comic-book adaptations and franchise “reboots.”

But the tendency to remake and re-do isn’t limited to stories from the 1970s to now. Hollywood sometimes looks way back when searching for stories it can retell to audiences hungry for familiarity.

Hence the latest film adaptation of Charlotte Bronte’s Jane Eyre, a novel adapted nearly 20 times, as far back as 1914 and as recently as 2006. A moral story of a mistreated young woman who finds unexpected love with an older man and then stands by her principles when the man turns out to be married, Jane Eyre continues to appeal to modern audiences.

That attraction is only intermittently evident in this latest version of Jane Eyre, from director Cary Fukunawa (Sin Nombre). Dark and suffocating during its first half hour, it catches fire with its introduction of Rochester (Michael Fassbender, Jonah Hex). His verbal sparring with Jane (Mia Wasikowska), a governess who has moved to his estate to look after his ward, livens up the movie.

The classic tale should be familiar to viewers—perhaps too familiar, which may explain why Fukunawa and screenwriter Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe) have, unwisely if not fatally, fractured the story’s timeline. While the novel delivers a straightforward sequence of events, the film puts the onus on the audience to piece together the plot as the movie slowly reveals the different periods of Jane’s story.

In the book, those periods begin with Jane’s persecution in the home of her cruel aunt Mrs. Reed (Sally Hawkins, Never Let Me Go) and spoiled male cousin; her time under the supervision of a stern schoolmaster, who, on the word of Jane’s aunt, believes Jane to be a serial liar and punishes her accordingly; Jane’s experience working for Rochester; her disillusionment with Rochester and fleeing of Thornfield Hall; her return to normalcy in the home of clergyman St. John Rivers and his sisters; and her subsequent return to Thornfield and Rochester.

The new film opens with a disoriented Jane running away from Thornfield (although it’s not identified as that) and walking the moors, where she ends up outside the home of Rivers (Jamie Bell, Defiance). She’s weak and overcome, but by what we don’t yet know. The story then flashes back to Jane’s tortured early life. Sent to live with her aunt and uncle (who subsequently dies), she suffers under the hand of Mrs. Reed, who sends the unwanted girl to live year-round at a dismal boarding school. There, Jane befriends Helen Burns (Freya Parks). It’s Helen who speaks of spiritual matters as something other than stern truths to be uttered upon punishment for perceived misbehavior; she’s told by a the headmaster to stand on the “pedestal of infamy”; asked where the wicked go after death; ordered to define hell and explain how to avoid it; told that her corporal punishment is the way to “mortify the flesh.”