In this adaptation of Charlotte Bronté's classic novel, Jane Eyre (Wasikowska) is a despairing young Victorian woman seeking refuge in the home of a country pastor (Bell) and his family. In flashbacks, we learn that this proverbial plain Jane was orphaned as a child and treated cruelly by everyone around her, yet somehow transcended her unlucky fate to become governess at an isolated English manor. Her contented life takes a dramatic turn, however, when she falls in love with her brooding employer Edward Rochester (Fassbender), a tortured soul with a dark secret that threatens to destroy any hope of happiness for Jane.
Even if you've read the book or seen the earlier film version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, you'll be struck by the emotional intensity of this masterful remake. The casting is inspired; the two lead actors smolder in restrained, nuanced performances; and the always reliable Dench (as the manor's housekeeper) manages to convey volumes with arched eyebrows. Director Fukunaga uses a rich palette of grays and blues and wide shots of lonely rural British landscapes to reinforce the aching romance and gothic mystery at the heart of this story. Pop the corn and light the fire (preferably during a window-rattling thunderstorm), and settle in for a spellbinding period romance.