Plain Jane goes to Hollywood

20th September 1996 at 01:00
As Zeffirelli's film version visits a screen near you, Hugh John takes a look at Charlotte Bront 's Jane Eyre. JANE EYRE: READER, SHE MARRIED HIM BBC2 Learning Zone, Wednesday, September 25, 5.30am JANE EYRE: THE STUDY GUIDE By Film Education

Reader, she is about to marry him. Again. Forget Emma, this weekend, Franco Zeffirelli's film version of Jane Eyre, starring William Hurt as Mr Rochester and Charlotte Gainsbourg as the eponymous heroine goes on nationwide release.

First published 150 years ago, Jane Eyre has never been out of print and is still one of the most widely read English novels of the 19th Century. The story itself is well known: the heroine, having survived a harsh upbringing and schooling at Lowood Hall, becomes a governess, and falls in love with her employer.

The story may have the sort of happy ending which once led to it being disparaged as a "woman's novel", but before Jane and Rochester stroll off into the pale English sunset, Hollywood style, they have endured and overcome all manner of hardship, not least of which is a dramatic country house fire started by Rochester's first - and mad - wife: an early casualty of care in the community. It is a moral tale for all times.

The study guide has been produced to coincide with the latest film version. The visual strand of the guide is a 30-minute programme produced for the BBC's Learning Zone, which is being broadcast on BBC2. This includes film clips, textual analysis and commentary from John Peck (senior lecturer in English at the University of Wales, Cardiff) and Jane Sellers (director of the Bront Parsonage Museum) which cover many of the topics dealt with in the accompanying booklet.

Film Education suggests that the learning materials are suitable for GCSE and A-level English and media students and may also be adapted for use for early secondary. Despite the inclusion of some well-chosen film clips, the detached, analytical tone of the programme might alienate some younger students. Certainly a high degree of teacher motivation and direction would be required to retain teenagers' interest.

The study guide was written by Anita Russell, who has taught both English and media studies. Illustrated with stills from the Zeffirelli film and the 1944 gothic version, which featured Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, the main emphasis of this 17-page booklet is film and media - it is, after all, a film study guide. There is, however, plenty of project work which encourages students to look at the text in detail and which would be appropriate to both GCSE and A-level pupils.

A number of exercises are intended to be done in conjunction with the three study clips included in the BBC programme. The guide and the suggested coursework contain material and activities that should stimulate secondary students up to A-level.

Among the topics covered are the social status of women in the 19th century, film language, reflecting a mood in film, adapting language for the screen and packaging text for different audiences. There is also a four-page extract from the screenplay of Jane Eyre complete with camera actions and directions.

The programme and study notes are well integrated and teachers should find them helpful, lively and illuminating. None the less, in this post-structuralist age, media students will surely permit themselves a wry smile (as might Charlotte Bront ) at the unintentional stereotyping of a programme where the "serious" textual analysis is delivered by an earnest male academic shot in medium close-up, and the more general background information by a woman, albeit the director of the Bront Parsonage Museum, in a rather pretty garden.

Film Education's Jane Eyre: The Study Guide is available free from Film Education, 41-42 Berners Street, London W1P 3AA. Tel: 0171 637 9932. As part of a wider remit, the guide complements one of the main themes of National Schools Film Week, Classic Books, Classic Films, which takes place in October, when film versions of epics such as Of Mice and Men, Sense and Sensibility and Tess of the D'Urbervilles will be screened across the country. Franco Zeffirelli's Jane Eyre opens on September 20

* To mark the 150th anniversary of the publication of Jane Eyre, the launch of Zeffirelli's film and to celebrate the work of the Bront s, the National Museum of Photography, Film and Television is holding a conference at Pictureville, the museum's state-of-the-art cinema on October 6. Presented by the Bront Society, there will be an exhibition on Jane Eyre and Dr Patsy Stoneman of Hull University will discuss screen adaptations of books. Details: 01274 727488

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