Jane Eyre, 1956 – ★★★★

This was a superb TV adaptation which was far better than expected – I had seen a few clips before.

Stanley Baker shows us a Rochester who lives in torment but who also has some humour as you see the love between him and Jane (Daphne Slater, who plays her from childhood, and is excellent) develop.

Studio bound except for one episode’s film sequences, this overcomes the technical and budgetary limitations of 1950s tv to provide a satisfying version which raises some smiles and gives a touching ending.

It starts with the young Jane screaming with fear in the locked room at her Aunt Reed’s, where her uncle had died and every noise and shadow causes her to jump.  We then see her life at Lowood with only the kind Miss Temple and the consumptive Helen Burns as friends – and later, when Helen has died and Jane has grown she answers Mrs Fairfax’s advertisement for a governess.

The story has been covered in many adaptations since, but I have only seen a handful of earlier ones, and none of them have gone into this depth (three hours and twenty minutes of episodes).  We have the gypsy scene, the fall from the horse (which can be found on the internet, one of the two clips I had seen before), the first interview (although this time Rochester does not send for Jane, she walks in on Adele unannounced and there he is), the attempt to burn Rochester in his bed – but missing the ‘friends and shake hands’ bit, the abruptly ended wedding, and so on.

There is a lot to admire here, notably the interplay between the leads and the fact that despite the actors being only one month apart in age, they portray a twenty-year age gap accurately here.  I liked the fact that Mrs Fairfax obviously knows something is hidden on the second floor as she pulls away from Jane and does not wish her happiness, and I particularly liked the ending, which was handled well.  And the pious clergyman Rivers is truly awful, all full of Christian charity.

This version is in the BFI archives and is in fairly good condition for a 1950s TV broadcast, one of the earliest to survive from the UK.  It has lovely music and interesting opening and closing credits, starting with a silhouette of Jane and ending with one of Rochester, perhaps a nod to the ‘threads between us’ speech which is missing from this version, which alludes to the pair being one being joined together at the heart.

About Louise Penn

Writer, reviewer, fan. View all posts by Louise Penn

2 responses to “Jane Eyre, 1956 – ★★★★

  • theskepticalmaltball

    I greatly enjoyed this well-written review of what is apparently an example of 1950’s television drama at its best. Pieces such as this, dating back to those fledgling days of the then-new medium of TV constitute a genre of their own. They are the proof that early TV drama established a standard that still stands as a challenge to all that has followed it. There is a simplicity and a power there that we don’t often see in modern offerings.

    • Louise

      Thanks for your comment – I thought this was an excellent production which stands up well alongside modern versions. I’ve seen many examples of early TV drama from the UK and the US which may not have flashy production values and high budgets but are well-written, acted, and directed. All too often these days the power of the ‘play’ as it were is obscured by the cleverness of the camerawork!

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