The Enthusiast's Guide to Jane Eyre Adaptations is an informative website about all the many different adaptations and variations of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Brontë .

About the Actresses to have played Jane Eyre

Virginia Bruce

Played Jane opposite Colin Clive in 1934

Born: Helen Virginia Briggs, September 29, 1910 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA
Died: February 24, 1982 (age 71) in Woodland Hills, Los Angeles, California, USA

Best known for The Great Ziegfield 1936 The Invisible Woman 1940 Born to Dance 1936

She was 24 when she played Jane

Joan Fontaine

Played Jane opposite Orson Welles in 1943

Born: Joan de Beauvoir de Havilland, October 22, 1917 in Tokyo, Japan
Died: December 15, 2013 (age 96)

Best known for Rebecca 1940, Suspicion 1941, Letter From an Unknown Woman 1948

She was 26 when she played Jane

On her co-star, Orson Welles:
"Everything about him is oversize, including his ego. He's larger than life. I think he is much better combining directing and acting, because he wants control. And he's right; he's a genius. "

Mary Sinclair

opposite Charlton Heston in 1949

Born: Ella Dolores Cook, November 15, 1922 in San Diego, California, USA
Died: November 5, 2000 (age 77) in Phoenix, Arizona, USA

Known for Arrowhead 1953

She was 27 when she played Jane

Katharine Bard

opposite Kevin McCarthy in 1952

Born: October 19, 1916 in Highland Park, Illinois, USA
Died: July 28, 1983 (age 66) in Los Angeles, California, USA

Known for Inside Daisy Clover 1965

She was 36 when she played Jane

Joan Elan

opposite Patrick Macnee in 1957

Born: July 24, 1929 in Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka)
Died: January 7, 1981 (age 51)

Known for The King's Thief 1955

She was 28 when she played Jane

Sally Ann Howes

opposite Zachary Scott in 1961

Born: July 20, 1930 in St. John's Wood, London, England, UK

Known for Chitty Chitty Bang Bang 1968

She was 31 when she played Jane

Susannah York

opposite George C. Scott in 1970

Born: Susannah Yolande Fletcher January 9, 1939 in Chelsea, London, England, UK
Died: January 15, 2011 (age 72) in London, England, UK

Known for Tom Jones 1963, They Shoot Horses, Don't They 1969, Superman the Movie 1978

She was 31 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

At the time I was asked to play the role of Jane, I was quite hot, so to speak. Offers were coming fast and furious, so I was delighted when I got the part. I loved the book and it was a part I had always wanted. I was bewildered and upset, however, when people said I was too pretty to play a plain governess. I have always thought of myself as a character actress and I longed to be noted for my acting ability and hated it when people paid attention to my appearance.

I've never thought of myself as pretty and truly felt I was Jane. She’s not a showy character, but she is still passionate, and that’s what I liked about her. People are also saying that Ruth Wilson is too pretty. But I think she has just the right qualities and seems to have the same view and feel of, and feeling for, Jane that I did.

My co-star, George, was a big, craggy, gruff creature, and he was great for a chat. But our approach to filming was totally different. I liked to rehearse, but he would do a scene in one take then go back to playing backgammon. I thought he made a pretty good Rochester, though, as he had a real presence — although he was perhaps a bit too old. I must confess that I have yet to see my perfect Mr Rochester. Even Toby Stephens in the current adaptation, while a great actor, is not the Rochester of the book as he’s a bit too young.

I wouldn't say I was typecast, but people tended to see me as a more serious actor afterwards. As a result, although I refuse to accept it when people put limitations on me, I’ll admit that it hasn’t always been easy to get roles since.

I don't regret playing Jane, though. It was a brilliant part. Usually I curl up with embarrassment when I watch my performances, but when I watched my version of Jane Eyre, it seemed to me that I had struck the right note.

Sorcha Cusack

opposite Michael Jayston in 1973

Born: April 9, 1949 in Dublin, Ireland

Known for Snatch 2000, Casualty (recurring)

She was 23 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

Jane Eyre was my first TV job and, to be honest, I felt I was rather hopeless. With no major roles under my belt, my performance was flat. I was very lucky to get the role in the first place and I think I got the part because I’m plain-looking and, because I was born and bred in Ireland, I was ten years behind other girls in terms of sophistication. Both were key ingredients to the character.

As a child, people were always saying, "Isnt Sinead [her actress sister] gorgeous?’ But my look was perfect for Jane. Rochester, Michael Jayston, said, ‘After this you’ll be huge,’ and, while we were filming, I did go to my bank manager and say, ‘I won’t need the overdraft any more.’ But I did need it as I didn’t get any big breaks afterwards. There was plenty of work, but not a role that changed the course of my career.Lots of theatre work followed, but several years after playing Jane, I put my career on hold for a while to return to Ireland to care for my late mother, who had heart problems. It’s nice looking back on the whole Jane Eyre period, and it’s lovely that I still get letters saying, ‘You’ll always be my Jane.’

Zelah Clarke

opposite Timothy Dalton in 1983

Born: 1954

Known for Lady Jane1986, Dombey and Son 1983

She was 29 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

Jane Eyre is the ultimate poisoned chalice. Everyone remembers the Rochesters, but no one recalls the Janes. I hoped the role might be a springboard — I never thought it would force me to retire. Before Jane Eyre I had done lots of TV costume dramas, but not a lead role, so I was thrilled when I got the part. Tim Dalton wasn’t a superstar then — in fact, I had more TV experience than him.

It was depressing when things suddenly stopped after Jane Eyre, especially as I had no idea why. But then I got married and my life changed. There is something undignified about old actors scraping around for work. I would never go back into the theatre; it ruins your social life and breaks up families. If I hadn’t done Jane Eyre, perhaps I’d have felt that I hadn’t proved myself. But I did and I have. Now, looking at the series, it seems old-fashioned, but I was pleased with my performance. Between roles I became interested in art, so perhaps I didn’t have such a desire to be a famous actress after all."

Charlotte Gainsbourg

opposite William Hurt in 1996

Born: July 21, 1971 in London, England, UK

Known for 21 Grams 2003, Antichrist 2009

She was 25 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

"The book wasn't part of my culture," says Charlotte Gainsbourg cautiously. "Of course I've read it now but I'm quite thankful it wasn't a big deal for me, because I was more free than someone who had loved it all their life. Jane has a strength to her that is very appealing to play. She puts up a defensive barrier to other people because of the terrible disappointments of her childhood."

Samantha Morton

opposite Ciaran Hinds in 1997

Born: May 13, 1977 in Nottingham, Nottinghamshire, England, UK

Known for Minority Report 2002, In America 2003

She was 20 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:

For a modern young woman like Ms. Morton, slouching on a sofa in the library of the Regency Hotel in New York, wearing trousers and a leather jacket, the self-possessed Jane in her sweeping, long skirts and tight corsets is from another world. ''It's like playing an alien,'' says the actress, who grew up in Nottingham, in the north of England.

To find her Jane Eyre, Ms. Morton went again and again to Charlotte Bronte's 1847 classic novel, taking notes and keeping them close by during the five-week shoot. ''By reading the book you have a clear picture of how she walks, how she sits, how she addresses people, how she smiles, how she dresses,'' Ms. Morton says. ''It's so easy; it's given to you on a plate.

Marla Schaffel

opposite James Barbour in 2000 Broadway musical

Born: April 17th

Known for her role as Jane Eyre starting with the early Kansas/Toronto run all the way to Broadway, 5 years later.

On playing Jane:

Schaffel, who has been playing the part of Jane Eyre for five years, began her journey with the role in a small workshop of the show. "They had one of those humongous auditions for a reading that doesn't really pay anything at Manhattan Theatre Club. And they auditioned hundreds of people, and I'm told that I was the first person that they saw for Jane and the only person that they called back." At the time of the reading, Schaffel had never read the classic novel by Charlotte Brontė. "I read it after I had done the original workshop reading. I didn't have time before hand." Even without reading the novel, Schaffel's love for the part was ignited. "I thought that Paul's [Gordon, the composer] writing was so respectful of Brontė's work that I was completely informed by his work. I knew who Jane was for a start. I know her a lot better now.

Schaffel said she was powerfully drawn to the role from the first rehearsal. "It was her [Jane Eyre's] capacity for feeling, her depth of feeling, her spirituality, her being in touch with things that are not of this world and yet really being a part of this world. And her clarity of vision as to other people's characters, her sense of right and wrong—not necessarily judging, but knowing what is true what is true for her."

Finding her way into the role after a hiatus also brings challenges. "Jane's openness and vulnerability are the hardest things to get back to," says Schaffel. "I'm not generally a very vulnerable person, and it's hard for me to open myself every time we start the show again. Also, I've changed so much in five years, and my life has changed drastically—I was married around the time I got the show and now I'm no longer with my husband—that I have to remind myself to remember the unjaded, youthful side of Jane. Each time it becomes a process of tearing down my walls. "It has continued to be difficult," says Schaffel, "but it has continued to be great."


Ruth Wilson

opposite Toby Stephens in 2006

Born: January 13, 1982 in Ashford, Kent, England, UK

Known for The Prisoner 2009, Luther 2010

She was 24 when she played Jane

At the time she had just one professional credit, as seductive Jewel Diamond in the Five sitcom Suburban Shootout.

And because most of the parts she was being put up for were similarly glamorous, she approached the Jane Eyre audition considering herself barely suitable for the role of the dowdy governess from Charlotte Bronte's 19th Century novel.

"But then I read the script and the script was amazing... so honest, natural and real," she says.

"It was kind of the first script that I felt really at ease with. When I was at the audition it just came so naturally to me."

She adds: "She's a complex, amazing character - it's a gift to be given really on your second job."

Wilson admits she was "a bit in shock" when she was told she would be joining a stellar cast including Toby Stephens, Francesca Annis, Pam Ferris and Tara Fitzgerald. "I didn't quite believe it for a while. The first people I phoned up were my mum and dad, who were very chuffed and sort of screaming down the phone, more excited than I was."

Mia Wasikowska

opposite Michael Fassbender in 2011

Born: October 14, 1989 in Canberra, Australia

Known for Alice in Wonderland 2010, The Kids are All Right 2010

She was 21 when she played Jane

On playing Jane:
"It’s an honor to portray Jane. What I love about her character is, despite all the hardship that she faces throughout her life, she has this innate sense of self-respect and an incredible ability to do what's right by herself as an individual. I believe that is key for people, especially women, to remember; it’s important to do what's fulfilling for you as an individual, even when it can be easier to do what's comfortable."

Mia Wasikowska assesses Jane Eyre as "timeless in her relevance – and her resilience. Instead of letting her situation grind her down, or becoming damaged, she becomes a stronger person. Jane always challenges herself and follows her gut feeling as well. She knows what's important for her to do. As hard as it might be, she gets on and does it." When asked what audiences should take away with them from Jane’s story, Wasikowska states, "It is about having self-respect and finding self-fulfillment."