May 17 2016 12:15pm

The Best Jane Eyre Adaptations Based on Mr. Rochester

As we observe the recent bicentennial of Charlotte Brontë’s birth (April 21), it is appropriate to take a critical look at the many filmed adaptations of Jane Eyre, her best-known work. Specifically, it is right and proper to assess, soberly and judiciously, the efforts of the many brave men who have undertaken the challenging role of aspiring bigamist Edward Fairfax Rochester. We embrace our duty to celebrate those individuals who have successfully grasped the brass rings (so to speak) of brooding intensity, towering presence, and smoldering hottitude, while also recognizing those who, for whatever reason, are perhaps less likely to haunt our dreams at night (and noting that there has never been a really bad Rochester). Here, in reverse-ranked order, is one such list.

7. George C. Scott (1970/Susannah York as Jane)

Scott brings the requisite gravitas, but might just be the slightest bit…not young for the role? (I know that he may have been technically younger than some of the other fellows listed here, but his Rochester sort of looks like Jane’s grandpa. A smoldering and particularly attractive grandpa, yes. But the age difference is unusually striking in this adaptation.) Also, in what universe was Susannah York ever “plain,” or even unusual-looking in a way that would have pegged her as “plain”? But that’s its own separate issue.

6. William Hurt (1996/Charlotte Gainsbourg)

Franco Zeffirelli’s 1996 version–and everyone in it–epitomize European cool. As Jane, Charlotte Gainsbourg is stunningly beautiful – in the film, she looks like she was sculpted out of butter – but remote; her interactions with Hurt generate very little heat. Hurt, for his part, gives more “cranky professor dealing with a series of petty inconveniences” than “tormented man fighting for his very soul.” He does what he can with the material, and he’s…fine, but he’s somewhat miscast here.

5. Timothy Dalton (1983/Zelah Clarke)

This adaptation is often cited as the one that’s closest to the book, particularly with respect to the dialogue. Zelah Clarke is a spirited Jane, and Timothy Dalton is a beautiful Rochester…

And that’s the problem (I guess you could call it a problem in this context) with the erstwhile James Bond. Rochester is magnetic and charismatic; he fills the room with his presence; you cannot take your eyes off of him; he is not gorgeous. Timothy Dalton? Is gorgeous. Enough said.

Timothy Dalton as Mr. Rochester

4. Ciarán Hinds (1997/Samantha Morton)

Hinds certainly has the presence, the voice, and the attitude to pull off a credible Rochester. Just ask anyone who has seen him in action as stalwart, swoonworthy Captain Wentworth in the 1995 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Admittedly, he brings the same intensity to his role as Rochester. But dude, what is up with the mustache?

3. Orson Welles (1943/Joan Fontaine)

Welles is a…curious on-screen presence, but he looks the part and he and Fontaine have that whole old-Hollywood glamour thing going for them. (Fun fact: Apparently, he and Fontaine did not get along, like, at all while making this film.)

2. Michael Fassbender (2011/Mia Wasikowska)

What’s this? Michael Fassbender occupying other than the #1 slot? I can hear the outraged screams from here, and I myself am not immune to the many, many charms of The Fassy. But he’s not the ultimate man for this role. Oh, he’s definitely hawt, and he’s surely intense, but he’s…how can I put this? Short. And delicate. And maybe a little young? Film producers of the United Kingdom, keep his number in your Rolodex and call him in 20 years for the remake. In the meantime, let us all bask in the Rochester-ness of my main man…

Toby Stephens as Mr. Rochester

1. Toby Stephens (2006/Ruth Wilson)

The unconventionally attractive Stephens embodies Rochester perfectly, nailing his passion, his desperation, and even his humor. He also – and this may have been the result of certain directorial decision – showcases Rochester’s outright sex appeal, which is, let us say, something that not every director chooses to highlight. It doesn’t hurt that Stephens has been matched with Ruth Wilson, who plays “otherworldly strangeness” like nobody else out there.

In short, Fassbender et al. are fine, but to me, Stephens is Rochester.

But enough about me. What do you think? Tell us about your favorite Rochester in the comments below!

Love to rank things? 

SEE ALSO: The Best Pride & Prejudice Adaptations, In Order of Mr. Darcy Hotness 

Kate Nagy knits in Falls Church, Virginia.


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1. momof3boysj
pretty close to my order of preference

2. Mo
If you're arguing that Stephens visually made a good Rochester, I can totally see that. But, despite my (laughing) discussion once about how Dalton was overly melodramatic at times, I've come to consider his performance one of the best. Rochester *is* melodramatic. He is wildly unpredictable and he is incredibly foolish.

As for the version starring Stephens, I hated it. For me, that version was so awful that I actually wrote a scathing review of it on Amazon.com, where I had purchased it and I just don't do that.
Megan Frampton
3. MFrampton
Yay for this post! I have seen many of these (natch!), and I can't decide on which is my favorite. I always quibble with how plain St. John Rivers is in some of the versions. Rupert Penry-Jones was up to the book's beauteous description, but the Fassbender one had Jamie Bell, who is--not hot. I think to present a viable choice for Jane that St. John has to be drop-dead hot.
Jennifer Proffitt
4. JenniferProffitt
@Megan--but Jamie Bell is so CUTE! I loved him in that... despite that version being a relative trainwreck!
6. Sandra Antonelli
Yep, Toby nails Rochester--his humour, his sex appeal. While I always loved Orson Welles' delivery of the line "Because I'm going to marry mademoiselle and take mademoiselle to the moon..." and found him to best physically embody Rochester, hands down, Rochester belongs to Mr Stephens.
Laura Bracken
7. Night -owl
So glad that Toby Stephens got the No.1 spot. I loved him as Mr. Rochester(and Mr. Rochester is a hard man to love). Yes, he nailed Mr. Rochesters dark, cynical humor.
Mr.R was such a tease around Jane and I thought Toby Stephens played that really well too.
8. Kate McMurray
This post is accurate. Orson Welles has been my Rochester of choice, but I haven't seen the Toby Stephens one, so I am going to rent that right now!
10. Caz
I loved Toby Stephens in the role, although I wasn't wild about the adaptation.

MY Rochester will forever be Timothy Dalton. I am old enough to have seen that series on first broadcast in the UK, which was some time before his Bond days, so I look at Bond and see Rochester and not the other way around! Because it was originally broadcast as the "Sunday Teatime Serial" (sigh -I miss those) there was also more time allowed; IIRC, it was shown in 12 or 13 half-hour episodes originally, so the adaptation was able to include more of the original story.
11. RachelLeighSmith
Toby is absolutely the best!!! That's my favorite adaptation all around.

Fassbender/Wasikowska was good, but they left too much out and I thought the story-telling suffered for it. Would've loved to see them get four hours.
12. wsl0612
I haven't seen all the versions but I LOVED Timothy Dalton's Rochester and I felt Zelah Clarke was perfect as Jane, although prettier than I think Jane was supposed to be she just did a great job with the character.

@ Megan - yes, Rupert is pretty, pretty, pretty ;-) I loved him in MI-5/Spooks.
13. cayenne
I saw the Dalton version first (all 11 episodes of it on A&E, back when A&E didn't mean Intervention and Duck Dynasty) so I think he imprinted on me as the Rochester. He had the whole "Vulcan-like" look, and definitely the ability to carry some of the OTT gothic-drama dialogue from the book.

The Toby Stephens version does come a fairly close second, though (I even liked him in Robin Hood, which had nothing beyond him and Richard Armitage to recommend it).
14. lisaione
My response to the list was a resounding YES! To me Toby is Rochester.
15. Deb Z.
I just re-watched the Toby Stephens version last week (had a hankering) and I completely agree. My #2 is also Michael Fassbender. If he'd had a longer adaptation it would probably be a tie.
16. rosebud45
Timothy Dalton for me too all the way!
18. Bianca
Toby Stephens is definitely my number one too.
He is weirdly attractive, not gorgeous, pretty, handsome; but undeniably sexy and he makes you want to get to know him better, to get closer...

Of course Stephens is also an incredible actor who can say quite a bit without saying anything at all, which apparently was off-putting for some? At least according to some reviews I read.

Necessarily all film adaptations have to cut some stuff from the novel and I think they also did a very good job there.

Just as an aside: I do not think Dalton is handsome. At all. In fact he was probably the ugliest* Bond until blondie appeared...

*my personal opinion
Pamela Veenstra
19. pampurr
Charlton Heston, 1950. Not his best performance.
Mary Lynne Nielsen
20. emmel
Dalton all the way, mainly for the way he had such *fun* with the eccentricities of the character.
Darlene Marshall
21. DarleneMarshall
Timothy Dalton. He had the acting chops, he had the looks, he was the closest to the book Rochester. When it's the pivotal wedding scene you can't take your eyes off of him. The slight tremble in his fisted hand says more than all the cheesy dialogue in some of the other adaptations.

Dalton FTW.
Felicia Fallon
22. Uber Romance Reader
My top pick is the version with Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton. I am unabashedly romantic and I loved that this version showed Rochester and Jane with children of their own. Am I remembering it correctly?
Leah Zehrung
23. Leah27
I know I'm late commenting but I just wanted to say after reading this I had to check out the Toby Stephens version. Luckily my library had it, and I devoured it in one sitting last night. Fassbender held the top spot for me until I saw this one, but now I have to agree, there was just something about Stephens' Rochester. I loved the banter between him and Ruth Wilson, who I thought was a great Jane as well.
24. DanaSherwood
Oh, wow. I keep meaning to watch the Fassbender and Stephens versions, and this is a great reminder. :-) I've been a Stephens fan ever since I saw him in Twelfth Night. Can't wait to see his take on Rochester.
25. Ami SM
Yes to Toby Stephens as ?1 Rochester!
27. KMC
Timothy Dalton was born to be Mr. Rochester and is, hands down, my favorite. Toby Stephens also does an excellent portrayal 23 years later. Part of their success is that both actors have terrific chemistry with their costars and extended material that's more faithful to the book.
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