#TBT: Who Is the Best Mr. Rochester?

Jane Eyre

Bibliophiles, Anglophiles, and period drama enthusiasts alike have something to celebrate today: it’s the 200th birthday of English novelist Charlotte Brontë! Brontë’s most popular novel Jane Eyre tells the compelling story of a plain, orphaned governess who captures the heart of her employer, Mr. Rochester. He is a dark and brooding romantic hero, brimming with moody passion and heady intelligence. Since its publication in 1847, Jane Eyre has lodged itself in the souls of millions and has been adapted frequently into films, novels, radio programs, and television movies. Not all of these adaptations are created equal, however. So on this, Miss Brontë’s 200th birthday, we look back on and rank the best and worst Rochesters on film.

1. Michael Fassbender (2011) 

It’s no secret that we love Fassbender here at Pop-Culturalist– watch this clip and you’ll see why. Fassbender’s Rochester perhaps isn’t quite for purists. After all, director Cary Fukunaga amplified and made obvious the Victorian novel’s subtle, simmering sexual tension. Make no mistake: Fassbender’s Rochester is sexy. But that’s not the only thing that makes him the Rochester of our dreams. Fassbender also brings a tormented madness to Rochester, which is in keeping with Fukunaga’s gothic imagining of the story.

2. Toby Stephens (2006) 

Toby Stephens plays Rochester like no one else does– and his Rochester comes in a verrrrry close second behind Fassbender’s. Yes, his Rochester is brooding and complex; but he’s also undeniably human, and Stephens brings a lighthearted sparkle to Rochester– in what other adaptation have we seen the two leads smile so readily? The wit and repartee crackles between Ruth Wilson‘s flawless Jane and him. In this adaptation, Rochester and Jane aren’t just equals; they’re equals who legitimately enjoy one another’s company.

3. Timothy Dalton (1983)

Timothy Dalton is the quintessential Rochester. He’s got everything down: the piercing gaze, the flashes of passion, the brooding intensity, the tender caresses, the intelligent discourse, the sexy voice… The man exudes Rochester. He isn’t our #1 Rochester simply because he does not put a refreshing spin on the character in the way that Fassbender and Stephens do.

4. Ciarán Hinds (1997)

If we can look past the creeper-stache, we can see that the great Ciarán Hinds is a serviceable/middling Rochester. What he lacks in nuance or subtlety, he makes up for in wild intensity and physical urgency. His Rochester is a little too sneering and a little too entitled; but at least he’s interesting.

5. Orson Welles (1944)

WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON HERE??? If you get nightmares from that scene, I apologize. Orson Welles, one of the most distinguished and iconic actors of the 20th century, was far from the best Rochester. In fact, his Rochester is overly stylized and, to our 21st-century sensibilities, comes off as a creep. Is his Rochester a villain or a hero? Some might argue that this ambiguity makes Welles’ performance great. I, on the other hand, would argue that this ambiguity makes his performance uncomfortable.

6. William Hurt (1996)

At least Orson’s Rochester has personality– William Hurt‘s definitely does not. Despite the fact that famed director Franco Zeffrelli helmed this adaptation, William Hurt completely misses the mark. He’s a great actor, but he’s the worst Rochester, hands down. His Rochester lacks the passion or intelligence that is fundamental in the character. It’s a shame that Charlotte Gainsborough‘s soulful Jane didn’t have a worthy partner in Hurt’s boring and uninspired Rochester.

Photo Credit: Focus Features

Parissa

Parissa is a grad student. Aside from loving anything British (she'd make a great duchess), she is also passionate about theater, period dramas, and small college towns. She is excellent at movie trivia. Some of her favorite things include: The Sound of Music, Gone with the Wind, Game of Thrones, and Outlander.

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