The mini-series is generally considered a successful adaptation, garnering critical acclaim and a number of prestigious nominations from various award bodies.
In this version of Charlotte Brontë's novel, Jane Eyre (Georgie Henley) is raised as a poor relation in the household of her aunt, Mrs. Reed (Tara Fitzgerald). As a young woman (Ruth Wilson), Jane is hired by the housekeeper of Thornfield Hall, Mrs. Fairfax, to be a governess for young Adèle (Cosima Littlewood). The owner of the estate is Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens), who is courting the beautiful Blanche Ingram (Christina Cole).
After the death of her uncle, the orphaned child Jane Eyre is left to the care of her uncaring and cruel aunt Mrs Reed. In their house at Gateshead Hall, Jane is ill-treated by her cousins and aunt alike and never feels at home. After one of many ill-treatments she is accused of being bad blood and in an attempt to get rid of her, Jane is sent to Lowood School by Mrs Reed. Like Gateshead Hall, Lowood School is a cold institution. Jane’s only friend at school, Helen Burns, dies and Jane is left alone once again. Resolving to become independent, she takes on the profession of a governess.
At 18, she is able to secure a position as governess to a girl at Thornfield Hall. Here Jane learns that her pupil, a French girl named Adele, was left in the care of the master of the house, Edward Rochester. She is also informed that the master of the house is seldom at home. On one of his journeys back to Thornfield Hall, Jane at last meets Rochester.
One night, Jane wakes to strange noises coming from Rochester’s room. She follows the noise and realizes that Rochester’s room has been set on fire and the master in danger.
After Jane is able to rescue Rochester just in time, she wonders who set the fire and from whom these strange sounds from the North Tower came. She barely receives an answer from Rochester who instead leaves Thornfield without notice the next morning. On his return to Thornfield, he brings along some acquaintances among whom are the beautiful Blanche Ingram and her mother Lady Ingram.
Rochester receives another unexpected and not wholly welcome guest. Mason, the guest, is severely injured one night. While Rochester fetches a doctor, Jane is left to take care of Mason in the North Tower. Once again strange sounds from the North Tower precede the incident. While looking after Mason, Jane is startled by loud noises from the other side of the door in the North Tower.
Jane receives a visitor from the past. Bessie informs her of her aunt’s illness and the request to see Jane before she dies. Jane asks Mrs. Reed why she always hated her niece. Mrs. Reed replies that it was because her husband had loved Jane more than his own children, even calling out for her on his deathbed. Jane also learns from her aunt that she has an uncle. This uncle requested to take care of Jane when she was still a child. Her aunt misinformed the uncle and told him that Jane died. Unlike her aunt, Jane is able to forgive Mrs. Reed on her aunt’s dying bed.
Away from Thornfield Hall, Jane realizes with more clarity that Thornfield has indeed become a home for her, something she never had before. However, the rumours of an upcoming marriage between Blanche Ingram and Mr. Rochester immensely disturb her. Is she to leave her beloved Thornfield?
In an attempt to find out about Jane’s real emotions, Rochester constantly teases Jane so that she finally reveals that she loves not only Thornfield Hall but Rochester as well. As these feelings are shared by Rochester, he proposes to Jane and is accepted.
Two days before the marriage Jane’s wedding veil is ruined. Even her seeing a shadow of a woman in her rooms is, according to Rochester, part of her dream. At the wedding, however, Jane finally learns of Rochester’s wife Bertha living in the North Tower. Insanity runs in Bertha's family and as a result she was locked up for the safety of herself and others. This information is revealed by Mason, who turns out to be Bertha’s brother. Rochester insists that he still loves Jane and offers to live with her "as brother and sister"; but Jane leaves Thornfield in the night.
Jane is left penniless and without any hope. She succumbs and lies down on the moors to die. She is, however, rescued by the clergyman, St John Rivers, who takes her home and nurses her back to health with the help of his two sisters. Jane, however, seems to have lost her memories.
Jane is told by St John that she has inherited some money from her uncle and that they are also related. St John Rivers also informs Jane of his knowing of her past, including Thornfield Hall.
Jane cannot come to terms with the marriage proposal from St John Rivers or the prospect of living abroad as missionaries. As she begins to hear Rochester calling her name, Jane immediately knows that she belongs to Thornfield and Rochester. On her return she finds a weakened and blind Rochester and a burnt-down Thornfield. Jane is also told of the circumstances surrounding the fire and Rochester’s blindness. He was injured while trying to rescue his wife Bertha, who did not survive. Rochester recognizes Jane upon hearing her voice and is very happy to have her back. The two are married and the entire family — Rochester, Jane, Adele, St. John Rivers' sisters, two children (presumably Rochester and Jane's offspring), and the dog Pilot — gather in the garden to have their portrait painted. Because St. John is away on his mission, he is painted to the side of the portrait.
While for the most part a faithful retelling of the novel, the screenplay does contain minor deviations. These include the reduction of time devoted to the first third (Lowood School) and the final third (St. John) of the novel. The middle of the novel is instead developed and a few scenes from the novel are compressed or moved to different times and places in the narrative. The scenes surrounding Jane's flight from Thornfield until her regaining of health are treated as a brief flashback sequence: Many pages of text were condensed into a passage of a few minutes' length. Additional scenes were created for the screenplay which underscore the passionate natures of Jane and Rochester (a thematic point implied but not spelled out in the novel). One of the more significant plot changes occurs during the gypsy sequence as Rochester hires a gypsy rather than portraying one himself. Rochester also uses an ouija board as a supplement to this game, a scene which was written specifically for the screenplay.
For a full-length summary of Charlotte Brontë's novel, see Jane Eyre plot summary.
The worldwide premiere outside of the United Kingdom was in Spain. The production appeared on Antena 3 on 1 January 2007 as a four-hour program and had an audience of 2,056,000 or some 17.7% of the viewing audience.
Jane Eyre was shown on Masterpiece Theatre on most PBS stations compressed into two hours each over two nights, on 21 January and 28 January 2007. Jane Eyre was rebroadcast on 30 December 2007 and 6 January 2008. It was the final broadcast of Masterpiece Theatre before WGBH retooled the classic anthology series into Masterpiece.
RTP2 in Portugal premiered the series on 22 September 2008, 10.40 pm. It also aired on RTS2 (Serbia) and HTV2 (Croatia).
Lucasta Miller states in The Guardian that, "The new BBC version shows that it is [...] possible to make successful drama by telling the story straight. It features an excellent performance from Toby Stephens, who manages to make Rochester simultaneously macho and vulnerable, and also from Ruth Wilson as a quizzical, strong and un-neurotic Jane." Barry Garron in The Hollywood Reporter suggests that, "the new adaptation written by Sandy Welch and directed by Susanna White doesn't add new colors to Bronte's romantic novel. Rather, it brings out all the shades and hues of the original portrait, restoring it to its full glory." Dennis Moore of USA Today, argued that, "The story is splendidly retold [...] From sweeping shots of the English countryside through all seasons to intimate scenes in the recesses of the manor house, this adaptation of Jane Eyre shows off a richness American TV projects rarely attempt. The appeal stretches beyond style. The lean scripting (even at four hours the program can't cover every one of Brontë's plot details), the expeditious pacing and the interaction among the actors are first-class, if not as brilliant as the more ambitious and magnificent Bleak House from last season."