Television Review

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The Independent Culture
Where novelists can dispose their landscapes as they will, film- makers have to compromise with the world, which can be notoriously stubborn about providing sympathetic effects. The point was well made by the dramatic scene in Jane Eyre (Sun ITV) in which the heroine first encounters Mr Rochester. In the book, this is a moment of atmospheric magic - a still winter evening with blue smoke rising from distant cottages, the light fading to twilight and the very contours of the lane conspiring to keep the approaching horseman invisible long after the "tramp" of his horse's hooves has become audible. The result is a moment of superstitious fancy on Jane's part, thoughts of folk-demons which she recounts to us in faintly amused tranquillity. On screen, faced with a bright spring day, the makers of Kay Mellor's adaptation had been forced to resort to rather coarser forms of gothic accessory - clouds of artificial smoke, hoofbeats like grenades going off in an echo-chamber and, most fatal of all, slow-motion. Only that doomy passage from the Carmina Burana was missing from the portentous assembly. And because the screen is much more literal in its story-telling than a novel (because, above all, it has difficulty establishing where our point of view stops and that of the character begins), you do wonder for a moment why Jane hasn't dropped dead from sheer terror.

The scene proved to be representative of a slightly heavy hand with the emotional amplifier, not something you need when the text is already loud with supernatural tremors and romantic excess. The result was occasionally comic, as when Jane's marriage to Rochester was intercut with a long shot of a horse pounding across a distant horizon, a cut which made you think of "B" westerns rather than the impending catastrophe of feeling.

At other times, though, it was simply a little flat. The wedding scene, for instance, provided a good demonstration of how the conventional grammar of television makes it difficult to match a specifically literary effect. As written by Charlotte Bronte, the events following the revelation of Rochester's existing marriage are marked by one unusual absence - barely any account of Jane's thoughts. She is present only as an observer or an object until alone in her room - "till now I had only heard, seen, moved - followed up and down where I was led or dragged... but now, I thought." The stunning shock of the revelation on Jane's feelings is most powerfully conveyed not by a transcription of them but by a break in transmission. On screen, the passage was a much more conventional affair, unable to resist television's dependency on the reaction shot. Jane's dazed and tearful face - the visual equivalent of a sentence describing Jane's inner mental agony - recurred again and again.

This isn't a criticism of the adaptation, more an acknowledgement of the natural privileges prose enjoys over a film script, which will always make the latter look partial or depleted. As Rochester, Ciaran Hinds was a bit too boomingly aggressive for my taste, but Samantha Morton suppressed all memories of the middle-class prostitute she played in Band of Gold, her features fading unpredictably between the plainness Jane claims for herself and the beauty Mr Rochester brings out in her.

If you prefer your period drama freshly minted, Deacon Brodie (Sat BBC1) would have served you better, an 18th-century caper movie which took a real story - that of an Edinburgh cabinet maker with a secret life of larceny - and gave it a more satisfying ending than the original. In real life, Deacon Brodie was hanged on a gallows of his own devising, but here he escapes by various ingenious and implausible strategies to take revenge on his enemies. Simon Donald's script was beguilingly anachronistic in its manner, while Philip Saville's direction enjoyed the opportunity for Hogarthian assemblies of picaresque detail, put together by a fluidly moving camera. The acting was good, too, with the cheeky mischief of Billy Connolly's stage persona fitting snugly into the character of Brodie, and Patrick Malahide creepily good as Bailie Creech, a pederastic bookseller with designs on Brodie's boy. Enjoyable, and all its own work.

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