The film begins with Jane Eyre fleeing Thornfield Hall in the middle of the night and finding herself alone on the moors, in the pouring rain. She manages to reach the doorstep of Moor House, the home of Mr. St. John Rivers, a clergyman, and his two sisters. They take Jane in, saving her life.
There follows a flashback, to the 10-year-old Jane Eyre, an orphan, living with her maternal uncle's family, the Reeds, at Gateshead Hall. Jane’s aunt, Sarah Reed, doesn't like Jane and is very cruel to her; Mrs. Reed's three children are also abusive towards her. One day, Jane is locked in the Red Room, where her uncle died, and which Jane believes is haunted. She knocks herself unconscious on the door, after a huge puff of smoke comes down the chimney.
Jane's aunt sends her to Lowood School for Girls, which is run by a cruel clergyman, Mr. Brocklehurst. Mrs. Reed tells him that Jane is a deceitful child and is not to be trusted. Jane tells her aunt how much she hates her and that she is a hard-hearted woman. At Lowood, while another pupil, Helen Burns, is being beaten, Jane accidentally drops her slate. Mr. Brocklehurst brands her a liar and makes her stand on a chair all day. Jane and Helen become close friends, but Helen later dies of consumption (tuberculosis).
Eight years later, Jane leaves Lowood and takes up a post with Alice Fairfax of Thornfield Hall. She will be a governess to Adèle Varens, a young French girl who is Mr. Rochester's ward. When she first arrives at Thornfield, a gloomy, isolated mansion, Jane mistakes Mrs. Fairfax for her employer, but she finds out that she is only the housekeeper for her absent master. While Jane is walking into town to post a letter, a horse passes her and throws its rider. Jane helps the gentleman to his horse. Later, back at the mansion, she learns that the horse rider is Mr. Edward Rochester, master of the house. He jokingly tells her that she must have bewitched his horse to make him fall. They gradually fall in love with one another.
One night, Jane is awoken by a strange noise at her door, only to find that Mr. Rochester's room is on fire, which the two of them manage to extinguish. He thanks her for saving his life and holds her hand affectionately. The next day, Rochester leaves Thornfield to visit Lady Blanche Ingram, his future wife; he brings her back to Thornfield with him a few weeks later. When a man named Richard Mason of Spanish Town, Jamaica, shows up, Jane can see that Rochester is disturbed. That night, a scream awakens everyone. Rochester assures his guests it is just a servant's reaction to a nightmare, but after they go back to their rooms, he secretly has Jane tend to a bleeding Mason while he fetches a doctor. Rochester has the doctor take Mason away.
Jane receives a letter from her old nurse, Bessie. Jane's cousin, John Reed, has committed suicide, the news of which has so shocked his mother, Sarah Reed, that it has brought on a stroke. Apparently, Mrs. Reed has been asking to see Jane. Jane returns to Gateshead, where her dying aunt shows her a letter from Jane's paternal uncle, John Eyre, asking for her to go to live with him in Madeira. He wants to adopt Jane and bequeath her at his death. Jane notices that the letter was dated three years ago. Mrs. Reed admits to telling John Eyre that Jane had died of typhus at Lowood School. Mrs. Reed tells Jane that she feels cursed by her. Jane forgives her aunt and returns to Thornfield, having begun a correspondence with John Eyre.
Jane informs Rochester that she must leave Thornfield because of his impending marriage to Blanche Ingram. However, Rochester suddenly proclaims his love for Jane and proposes to her; they kiss passionately. During the wedding ceremony, Mr. Mason appears, along with a lawyer, declaring that Mr. Rochester cannot marry Jane because he is still married to Mr. Mason's sister, Bertha; he adds that his sister is still living at Thornfield Hall. Mr. Rochester admits this is true and takes Jane to meet his wife, calling her his own demon; they find her locked away in a room at Thornfield. Rochester tells Jane that his father wanted him to marry Bertha for her money. Once they were married, he discovered that she was rapidly descending into madness and was forced to lock her away in Thornfield; she was the one responsible for the strange happenings in the house. Refusing to act against her principles, and despite her love for Rochester, Jane leaves Thornfield in the middle of the night.
After struggling for days in poverty and starvation, Jane is discovered by a man called St. John Rivers, who saves her life by offering her food and shelter. After Jane regains her health, St. John goes on to find her a teaching position at a nearby charity school. One night, she hears knocking at her door and imagines it to be Rochester, but it turns out to be St. John at the door informing her that her uncle, John Eyre, has died, leaving her all his property and that she is rich, to the tune of £20,000 (equivalent to £1,600,000 in 2015). Jane offers to share the money with St. John and his sisters, suggesting that they live together at Moor house; they agree to the offer. St. John asks Jane to marry him and go with him to India. Jane agrees to go to India with him, but rejects the marriage proposal, suggesting that they travel as brother and sister, as that's how she sees their relationship. On the moor, Jane suddenly hears Rochester's voice calling her name.
Jane returns to Thornfield, only to find the house a blackened ruin. She learns from Mrs. Fairfax that Rochester's wife set the house on fire and died, jumping from the roof. Jane finds Rochester, who has lost his eyesight in the fire. Jane reunites with him and they embrace.Mia Wasikowska as Jane Eyre
Michael Fassbender as Edward Fairfax Rochester
Jamie Bell as St. John Rivers
Judi Dench as Mrs Fairfax
Sally Hawkins as Mrs Reed
Holliday Grainger as Diana Rivers
Tamzin Merchant as Mary Rivers
Simon McBurney as Mr Brocklehurst
Imogen Poots as Blanche Ingram
Sophie Ward as Lady Ingram
Su Elliot as Hannah
Jayne Wisener as Bessie Lee
Amelia Clarkson as young Jane
Romy Settbon Moore as Adèle Varens
Freya Parks as Helen Burns
Harry Lloyd as Richard Mason
Valentina Cervi as Bertha Antoinetta Mason
Craig Roberts as John Reed
The film was produced by Alison Owen's company Ruby Films, with financial support from BBC Films, Focus Features and Lipsynch Productions. The script by Moira Buffini appeared on the 2008 Brit List, a film-industry-compiled list of the best unproduced screenplays in British film. The story is largely presented by way of flashbacks. In October 2009, it was announced that Cary Fukunaga would direct the adaptation. Fukunaga had been in England promoting a film when he met with the BBC and learned about their plans for a new adaptation. The filmmakers decided to play up the Gothic elements of the classic novel. Fukunaga stated, "I’ve spent a lot of time rereading the book and trying to feel out what Charlotte Brontë was feeling when she was writing it. That sort of spookiness that plagues the entire story... there’s been something like 24 adaptations and it’s very rare that you see those sorts of darker sides. They treat it like it’s just a period romance and I think it’s much more than that."
Mia Wasikowska starred as the title character and Michael Fassbender as Edward Rochester. Fukunaga and the producers wanted an actress close to Jane Eyre's age in the novel, in contrast to many previous versions. Fukunaga liked Wasikowska's "sense of observation in her eyes" and that "[she] could communicate [Jane's inner turmoil] in a way that didn't feel theatrical". He felt her looks could be played down as required for the role. On casting Rochester, the director stated that while there were actors closer in appearance, he felt Fassbender had the spirit of the character. Jamie Bell, Judi Dench, Sally Hawkins, Simon McBurney, Imogen Poots, Holliday Grainger and Tamzin Merchant also joined the cast.
Principal photography began on 22 March 2010 and concluded in mid-May. Filming locations included London and various locations in Derbyshire and the Derbyshire Dales, including Chatsworth House, Haddon Hall, the village of Froggatt and the Fox House pub in Sheffield, as well as Broughton Castle in Oxfordshire. The score is composed by Academy Award winner Dario Marianelli. Another Academy Award winner, Michael O'Connor, designed the costumes. Although they estimated the setting was the late 1830s, they settled on four to five years later in 1843. Fukunaga commented that "the clothing style of the '30s was just awful. Every woman looked like a wedding cake." However, they decided to allow a few characters in older fashions to reflect that some would not have updated their style. He looked at some 60 residences for one to represent Thornfield Hall but settled on Haddon Hall as it had not undergone much redecorating; the same location was also used in the 2006 BBC version of Jane Eyre. The conditions were very cold and Fukunaga admitted that Wasikowska nearly got hypothermia on the second day while shooting the rain sequence; however, he could not imagine filming anywhere else, saying "Northern England – Yorkshire and Derbyshire, the moors and dales – they look like they’re something straight out of a Tim Burton horror film. The trees are all twisted by the wind; the bracken and the heather on the moors have this amazing hue. And the weather is so extreme and it changes all the time. The house even, Haddon Hall, is just so steeped in history, the spaces, the galleries, they sort of just breathe and you feel the presence of the history." Key scenes were filmed in Broughton Castle.
The film had a limited release on four screens in the United States on 11 March 2011. It grossed $182,885, for a per cinema average of $45,721 – the best speciality debut of 2011. As of 14 July 2011, its North American total stood at $11,242,660. After the United States, it was released in a number of countries during the spring and summer of 2011, but not until 9 September was it released in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In its opening week, Jane Eyre moved to third place in the UK box office, behind The Inbetweeners Movie and Friends with Benefits.
Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 86% of 138 critical reviews are favourable. The site's consensus is that "Cary Fukunaga directs a fiery and elegant adaptation, while Mia Wasikowska delivers possibly the best portrayal of the title character ever."
A. O. Scott made the film an "NYT Critics' Pick", saying "This Jane Eyre, energetically directed by Cary Joji Fukunaga (Sin Nombre) from a smart, trim script by Moira Buffini (Tamara Drewe), is a splendid example of how to tackle the daunting duty of turning a beloved work of classic literature into a movie. Neither a radical updating nor a stiff exercise in middlebrow cultural respectability, Mr. Fukunaga's film tells its venerable tale with lively vigor and an astute sense of emotional detail."
Richard Corliss of Time named Mia Wasikowska's performance one of the Top 10 Movie Performances of 2011.