Michael Fassbender is having one of those moments in an actor’s career when he seems to be in pretty much everything.
Moments after donning a helmet for X-Men: First Class, Fassbender is now studiously beating Keira Knightley’s bottom in A Dangerous Method and loosening some serious corset strings in a low-key but wonderful new version of Jane Eyre.
But, while Fassbender as the tortured Mr Rochester, is certainly a force to be reckoned with - all smouldering physicality and desparation - this is not really his film at all. With her unwavering stares and contemplative silences, it is Mia Wasikowska as Miss Eyre herself who unequivocally steals the show.
Following an underwhelming performance in last year’s Alice in Wonderland, Wasikowska is here the very embodiment of Victorian restraint and feminist yearning.
We first meet her, in a welcome rejigging of the novel’s linear plot structure, distraught and near death on the apocalyptic Yorkshire Moors.
From here the film traces her life thus far – her childhood abandonment at a loveless orphanage, and – of course – her time as governess at Thornfield Hall, where she meets – and falls in love with – the mysterious Mr Rochester, whose past soon threatens to destroy them.
The cinematography is key here (director Cary Fukunaga was once a cinematographer and it shows), masterfully capturing the pathetic fallacy of the untamed moors and brooding skies. Inside Thornfield Hall the rooms are gloomier still, all bare rooms and muted colours. When Jane is happy it is no accident that spring arrives, bringing with it a sunnier climate and richer hues.
Fukunaga was seen as an odd choice of director for a gothic romance, his only well-known feature being Sin Nombre, a thriller about Mexican drug gangs. But he totally understands dialogue – or lack of it. Wasikowska's Jane is positively teeming with inner monologue, unspoken thoughts very clearly lurking behind her crisp stares and brief utterances, until Mr Rochester comes to draw them out.
Critics will say the film misses out too much of the book but it’s a necessary sacrifice that allows the romance room to breathe. Some will no doubt also argue that Fassbender is too good-looking. Somehow we doubt Charlotte Bronte would object.
A bleak but charmingly intimate film, this is about as far from Pride and Prejudice as period drama gets. Wasikowska probably won’t win an Oscar because the strength of her performance lies in just how unassuming it is – but she should.