Who's In It: Mia Waskikowska, Michael Fassbender, Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins
The Basics: It's the hard-knock life for Jane Eyre (Alice in Wonderland's Wasikoswka). Orphaned and left to live with a rich, cold aunt who hates her, she's then sent to a Catholic charity school where--surprise--the priest and nuns actively create a brutally lonely and punishing existence for the headstrong, self-possessed little girl. After her sole friend dies, nothing else even remotely good comes along until she's hired as a governess for the ward of the brooding Mr. Rochester (Fassbender). As he slowly takes an interest in Jane, she can't believe he's serious ("Are you mocking me?" she asks when he confesses his affection.) and tries to keep her own growing love to herself. On top of that, she can't quite shake the feeling that he's got a few secrets, like the one about the mysterious fire in his bedroom and why it sounds like moans and cries are coming from inside the house in the middle of the night...
What's The Deal: There are two kinds of British period movies. For lack of cleverer names, I'll call them Good Enough and Way Better Than Good Enough. Good Enough is the one you're having a perfectly pleasant Sunday afternoon watching, but then realize that it's got nothing more up its sleeve than putting all the money on the screen. Costumes, hats, huge ancient homes, Lords and Ladies and their servants and their tea and their whispered scandals. That's good enough. The other kind is the one that pushes through the vintage eye candy and almost makes you forget that it's the eleventeenth adaptation of a 150-year-old novel because every performance and emotion and camera move feels modern and relevant and alive right now. That's this one. It's not warm, it's not fuzzy, it's not cuddly, but its plenty seriously heartbreaking and it's got the feeling of a classic already.
Production Design-gasm: You didn't know that fog, rain, gloom and the lack of color could look so deep and rich, but about five minutes into its running time you will feel the windchill. Bring a sweater.
For All Concerned Parents Of Twilight Fanatics: If there was ever a time for film adaptations of Bronte sister novels to unseat those of Jane Austen as the go-to Bookish Girl's Night Out movie field trip destination, it's now. Spooky, foggy, downcast romantic dramas that may or may not contain supernatural elements are sort of popular right now, thanks to that one about the soft-spined teenage girl and her vampire boyfriend. But this moody movie, importantly and with as modern a sensibility as you could ask for, emphasizes the disconnect between the universal desire for self-determination and the binding social rules that kept young 19th century women from even attempting to grab for something more. (At one point, Jane openly longs for "action" in her life.) And when you watch her struggle to get out of an outfit featuring not just one but two corsets, it's about as strong a visual reminder as any of what women have to break through to get what they want.
Suggested Michael Fassbender Double Feature: After this movie, a dose of modern English poverty and miserablism will be the perfect antidote, so watch Fish Tank, where Michael Fassbender puts the romance moves on another teenage girl, this time with much bleaker, grimier results.