Jane Eyre (1957): A Dark Dash Through Thornfield

Yet another of the "treasures" to be found on YouTube is a version of Jane Eyre broadcast on TV in 1957, as part of the "NBC Matinee Theater" series. This roughly 50-minute production has, at least in its YouTube incarnation, washed-out color and occasionally unclear dialogue. However, it's quite watchable, and I'm glad to have any sort of access to that era's artistic output. I found it here.


Jane Eyre 1957


As one would expect, the cast did not feature A-list names. However, the fellow who portrayed Rochester, Patrick McNamee, achieved great success in the 1960s as the star of the British series The Avengers.


Such short treatments of Jane Eyre necessarily omit much material. This one may have set a record, though. The opening scene shows Jane entering Thornfield for the first time and immediately hearing an eerie laugh. Mrs. Fairfax tries to ignore it, then gloss over it; when pressed, she declares it was Grace Poole, who is "strange." (Only later, in a single sentence, does Jane mention her childhood — being orphaned and then sent to school by relatives who didn't want her.)


We then see Jane teaching Adele, whose unconvincing French accent comes and goes. Soon, we learn that Jane had gained this position by answering an ad (rather than by placing one herself, as in the book).


That afternoon, Jane is walking to the village post office when a horseman suddenly falls near her (without having seen Jane, who was not in the road). When she tells him she is the governess at Thornfield Hall, he says "Oh, the governess — I'd forgotten." Somehow this fails to arouse suspicion in Jane, even as she helps him back to Thornfield. There, he is greeted by Mrs. Fairfax as "Mr. Rochester"; so much for that snippet of mystery from the book.


Later in that scene, Mrs. Fairfax describes Rochester to Jane: "He's unpredictable, unsettled ... like a storm." She gazes dramatically into the distance, as does Jane when she murmurs "Like a storm" in response. Those gazes were apparently a staple of 1950s drama, as they recur throughout the production.


Rochester asks Mrs. Fairfax to send Jane to him as he sits by the fire — an unusually faithful snippet of the storyline. Just after that, though, Mrs. F. tells him that a fellow named Mason from Jamaica has visited the Hall repeatedly during Rochester's absence. When Jane arrives, Rochester starts to rise to refill his brandy glass, but Jane pushes him back into his chair and says "I'll get it for you." That degree of physical familiarity came far later in the book; in this film, perhaps it was enabled by her walking him all the way to Thornfield after his accident. However, Jane also acts far more self-confident in this initial conversation than in Charlotte Brontë's version of it.


That's one of the "off" notes about this treatment: rather than a plain, humble young governess, Jane is played as a cute and downright perky young woman. Conversely, Rochester is portrayed as even more gruff and troubled than his printed self; his gravelly voice is matched by dark rings around his eyes.


Shortly after the fire conversation, we see Jane and Rochester walking up the stairs. This is when a spate of stomach-turning creepiness beings. Rochester repeatedly sticks his face very close to Jane's, clearly invading her "personal space." After some drunken rantings about not needing anyone, and about his ill fortune, he declares "I know what I've got a right to, and I mean to take it," and he tries to pull Jane's face to him for a kiss. She recoils; nonetheless, she stays and talks with him some more. It's hard to know how much to attribute to the difference mores of that era; today, though, this physical aggression would be a clear signal for her to run from him.


Toward the end of that scene, he slurs that he is "tired of the search for love — too full of hate to find it." At that moment, Jane certainly should not have viewed herself as a candidate for that love.


Soon, Rochester is hosting a party, with the local ladies and gentry dancing and drinking. After seeing Rochester chatting up Blanche Ingram, Jane escapes to the balcony. There, she confides her fears to Mrs. Fairfax. When the housekeeper asks what she is afraid of, she replies "Something in this house, perhaps; something in myself. But it's ... it's more than one thing. It's a longing in myself I've never felt before ... There's disaster coming here; I smell it, feel it in my throat. Just not sure when it'll begin." Quite a dollop of foreshadowing.


Around this time, Rochester asks Jane whether she would leave him if everyone spat at him and left. "No, sir," she immediately answers. A few minutes later, he asks Blanche a similar question; calculating as ever, she replies, "I'd say it would depend on the reason." Right then, the viewer sees why Rochester would make the choice he did.


Meanwhile, Jane doesn't have to wait long for "disaster" to arrive. Mason, having appeared during the party and been sent upstairs by Rochester, staggers back down the stairs and collapses. "She used her nails and teeth," he gasps, while horrified guests crowd around him; "She said that she'd drain my heart." No secret tending of the wounded Mason by Jane; his travails are quite public.


The next time we see Rochester and Jane together, after Bertha has visited her bedroom, he once again persists in placing his face near hers. But this time, he asks an unfinished question: "If I say that you love me, Jane?" Ever submissive to her employer, she says "You know more about these things than I do." He proclaims his love and proposes to her. Just as they are kissing, Mason enters the room, clearing his throat. He scolds Rochester, saying he cannot marry Jane as he already has a wife who has been locked upstairs for 15 years. Rochester takes Jane to see Bertha, who is docile at first but then seizes Rochester's throat as Jane dashes from the room.


Jane appears downstairs, asking for a coach to take her to the village; she is leaving Thornfield. Rochester appears and tries to dissuade her, but she leaves. While riding in the carriage, she hears Rochester's voice calling her name. She returns to the Hall, where she finds Adele amid the rubble after the fire. She tells Jane that Bertha jumped from the roof and that Rochester is blind.


Jane finds Mrs. Fairfax feeding Rochester in a nearby cottage. When he tries to send her away because he feels useless, she declares "Your heart is great and strong ... that's what I want my life to serve. ... Please let your neighbor help you ... your nurse ...". Rochester says "My wife"; they kiss; and the credits roll.


Apart from the excision of Gateshead, Lowood, and the Rivers family, the main issue (as usual in such short productions) is that the relationship between Rochester and Jane is not allowed to take root, grow, and mature. Everything happens in hasty jumps, and given Rochester's crude manner and highly unsympathetic behavior, it is even harder than usual to figure out why Jane would fall for him. But I guess a bit of disbelief must be suspended now and then.


Even making allowances for its diminished timing, this is not a very satisfactory version of Jane Eyre. The characters don't closely resemble their original personae; little dialogue is lifted from the book; and so many changes were made, to compress the story into this tiny aperture, that it feels quite unlike Brontë's vision. I can only hope the 1957 broadcast induced some viewers to seek out the source material and experience Jane Eyre in its full glory.






  • Few 


  • Rushed storyline skips, compresses, or revamps nearly all aspects of the tale
  • Portrayals don't match the characters as written in the book
  • Overly dramatic acting diminishes the realism 
  • Rochester seems too unlikable for Jane to fall in love