The Many Mr Rochesters

Jane Eyre - July 17-22

Generations of schoolgirls have swooned over him, we’ve all argued over whether Mr Darcy is a better option, and Jane finally gets together with him in the novel’s final pages.

Yes, Charlotte Bronte’s romantic hero Edward Rochester is a firm favourite with her readers. But for that reason, he’s a hard character to bring to life onstage – how do you live up to the expectations of every one of the book’s many fans?

These gents had a good go at it:

 

He’s played characters inspired by video games (Aguilar de Nerha in Assassin’s Creed), comic books (Magneto in the X-Men movies), sci-fi franchises (David in the recent Alien films), and even real-life figures like Steve Jobs. Back in 2011, Michael Fassbender took on Mr Rochester, in a movie which starred Mia Wasikowska as Jane. The cast also included the likes of Dame Judi Dench, Jamie Bell and Imogen Poots.

Anthony Quinn, writing in the Independent, praised the vulnerable undertones that Fassbender was able to bring to the role, noting his “saturnine gaze and athletic leanness,” but it was Wasikowska’s performance that stole the show.

 

Ciaran Hinds and Samantha Morton in Jane Eyre (1997)
Photo: BFI

Irish actor Ciaran Hinds starred opposite Samantha Morton in the 1997 ITV movie.

Hinds has one of those recognisable faces, and there’s a reason for that; you’ll have seen him on TV in everything from Rome to Game Of Thrones. On the big screen, he lent his voice to the Troll King in Disney’s Frozen, and played Dumbledore’s brother Aberforth in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Part 2.

 

Toby Stephens in Jane Eyre (2006)
Photo: IMDB

The 2006 BBC series saw Toby Stephens play the part. Falling in love with Ruth Wilson’s Jane, he looked great stalking the moors in a billowing coat, but critics were divided over the adaptation.

Stephens brought the darkness in Rochester’s character to the surface – and many viewers were fans of his dangerous take on the character.

 

Further back, Orson Welles himself took up the mantle of Mr Rochester, bringing that iconic booming voice to the character. That adaptation was seen as overblown and slightly hammy on its release, but it’s one that time has looked on kindly.

Less happy has been the fate of Charlton Heston’s 1949 hour-long movie adaptation, which is all but forgotten. That’s a pity, because if anyone could play the stony exterior and inner turmoil of Mr Rochester, it’s Heston.

 

Nadia Clifford (Jane Eyre) and Tim Delap (Rochester) in Haworth
Photo: Ellie Kurttz

This week, Tim Delap is here in Norwich, taking on the role in an imaginative new production of Jane Eyre brought to us by the National Theatre and Bristol Old Vic. That beard might be classic Rochester, but his take is a slightly different one – not least because he doubles up as characters including a sheep and a dog!

“It’s really fun,” says Tim. “It is nice to not have to just worry about playing Rochester but to come into the show playing John Reed, the little brat, and then playing a girl at Lowood School and just being part of the ensemble. It’s exciting and a rollercoaster because for us as actors the show is non-stop. We are constantly a part of the ensemble playing different characters. It is very unlike anything I’ve done before and it’s thrilling.”

But what about his Rochester? “He is this wealthy, very troubled, very disturbed landowner with this very dark secret who has treated his mentally ill wife in a very dubious way, depending on how you look at it.

“The way Jane meets him and confronts him, standing up to him, changes him. It is a really fascinating relationship. It is not just about Jane wanting to get married. She actually fights against that because she doesn’t want to be kept. It’s a real relationship, in many ways so modern.”

 

See his take on Rochester (and John Reed), here until Saturday. Tickets are still available.