Charlotte Bronte's most famous orphan, "Jane Eyre," gets one of its most sensual treatments yet over the next two Sundays on "Masterpiece Theatre" (9 p.m. EST, PBS), but four hours is a lot to dedicate to a well-worn classic whose melodrama too often drags. The production, adapted from Bronte's 1847 gothic romance, originally aired on the BBC last year.
A very emotional child, Jane suffers greatly in the care of her cruel aunt. The girl is abused further during her years in an abysmal boarding school but manages to be hired as a governess at mysterious Thornfield Hall.
Ruth Wilson is the adult Jane, at turns severely plain looking (as written in the book) and glowing, usually in the presence of her employer, surly Mr. Rochester (Toby Stephens, who played the bad guy in the James Bond film "Die Another Day"). Wilson and Stephens generate more chemistry than any previous Jane and Rochester, and this adaptation allows them to be more physical than we've ever seen the characters. Their love, however, is doomed for now: Our hero's first wife is alive and not so well, stowed in the attic by day and haunting the mansion by night.
When Bertha catches sight of Jane in her wedding dress, she goes for Jane's throat. (Bertha is of Creole descent, and she curses in Spanish, using language that might have been heard on HBO's "Oz" but seems shocking on "Masterpiece Theater.") The adaptation sticks close to the book, but it's nevertheless over the top. Jane runs away from Thornfield Hall, escaping Bertha's wrath, and after further adventures, eventually reunites with Rochester.
Also indulging in some scenery chewing is Tara Fitzgerald ("Sirens," "Brassed Off"), who plays Jane's aunt, Mrs. Reed. When governess Jane returns to her dying aunt's home for a final visit, Fitzgerald is wheezing and spitting up a consumptive storm, shrieking for her dead husband. Jane is a saint merely for remaining bedside during the fit, but then forgives her aunt for her viciousness, illustrating how much the fitful little girl has matured.
If you love period dramas, two-hankie romances or all things BBC, this "Jane Eyre" is for you. Unless you are an absolute Bronte devotee, the first half can be skipped. (Viewers might be better off revisiting the best-known and more palatable 1944 version with Orson Welles and Joan Fontaine, clocking in at 97 minutes.) The second half, airing Jan. 28, improves considerably, with better _ and slightly speedier _ plotlines.Copyright © 2015, Los Angeles Times