This week’s pick is another television film – the 2006 BBC adaptation of Jean Rhys’ 1966 novel Wide Sargasso Sea. This is not to be confused with the 1993 film.
Synopsis of the Source Material (I am greatly oversimplifying here)
In what can only be classified as a novel prequel to Charlotte Bronte 1847 Jane Eyre. Wide Sargasso Sea takes a look at the pre-Jane life of Edward Rochester during his years in the Caribbean and his entering the doomed marriage with Antoinette Cosway (Jane Eyre’s Bertha Mason). Antoinette/Bertha is a white Creole who finds it hard to fit into society and it is from her vantage point that we see her make that steady decline into the “madness” of the “lady in the attic” as described by Ms. Bronte.
For all its virtues and entertainment it has provided me over the years, Jane Eyre (both the book and subsequent film adaptations) are very staid, emotionally cool pieces. Wide Sargasso Sea (book and film) are, on the other hand, a lush, exotic and sensual examination of the people and events surrounding them. Warning, this filmed version (starring personal faves Rafe Spall and Rebecca Hall) retains a lot of the overt sexuality from the source material. So if you are not familiar with the source material or the context in which it is placed, then this may not be for you. In other words, there is no “traditional” period romance going on here.
But for me the performances, especially that of Spall, made this a worthwhile watch. In very nearly every I see him in, he impresses me with his ability to embody a character.
I recognize that my appreciation for the intended aims of this film may be an outlier, but bear with me – there is a little bit of history here. Many many years ago, when I was in high school, a major block of our English literature study involved close examination of this and Jane Eyre. Heck I was even tempted to “break the rules” and catch the 1993 film upon its initial release, although I was not of age at the time. Ultimately, I did not have the guts to go through with it; but since that time, I have always been intrigued by the imagined world Antoinette/Bertha inhabited prior to her confinement in Thornfield Hall. This narrative provided an alternative glimpse into that world, even if from a post-colonial, feminist perspective.
Although it was not originally broadcast in the US, Wide Sargasso Sea is available for rental/purchase on DVD or via Amazon Streaming.
Be sure to check out Todd Mason’s blog for more awesome, overlooked or forgotten titles.
Have any of you seen this version OR the 1993 film?
What did you think about it?
Have you heard of/read the novel?