Wild Sargasso Sea (1993)

 Erotic tale behind Jane Eyre

wide-sargasso-seaWide Sargasso Sea is the ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre. It’s the story of an 18th century, Jamaican heiress Antoinette Cosway (Karina Lombard) and her arranged marriage to the young Edward Rochester (Nathaniel Parker). Rochester isn’t too thrilled about marrying an unknown foreigner, but as a good, obedient second son with no prospects, he accepts his father’s wishes and sails to Jamaica. Antoinette isn’t exactly ecstatic about the match either, but her family has a troubled history, and Rochester, as an outsider hasn’t heard the tales. But Rochester isn’t unhappy when he sets his eyes on his luscious, nubile new bride, and soon the young couple moves to the bride’s country estate of Coulibri. Once they are established here, things begin to go wrong. Rochester loathes the unruly, lush surroundings, and Antoinette’s voodoo-addicted servant, and he’s also both bewitched and uncomfortable with his bride’s rampant and frank desire.

While the book version of Wild Sargasso Sea (by Jean Rhys) emphasized Antoinette’s instability, the film focuses more on Edward. He is, at first, happy to embrace all the passion of his new conjugal relationship, but quite soon, it’s clear that he resents this passionate release, and he also resents the cause of it. Jamaica represents a lawless, uninhibited place, and he verves away from it as one makes a conscious choice to avoid bad habits. He simply can’t grasp the servants’ status. He gives an order and expects it to be mildly obeyed–instead he meets sullen resistance. He doesn’t understand the history of slavery on the island, the slave revolts or the inevitable consequences.

Jane Eyre is one of my favourite novels, so when I heard that Wide Sargasso Sea picked up the Jane Eyre story, I was fascinated. Visually, the film is stunningly beautiful. Edward’s nightmares are eerie and beautifully photographed. Somehow the film captures the essence of the theme–rot and decay at the heart of beauty. It’s a little cheesy in parts, but the film also delves into some rich food for thought–the Victorian suppression of sexuality, and the results of imperialism, for example. Not many books or films can interject into an established story both seamlessly and effectively, but Wide Sargasso Sea manages to do just that. Edward Rochester always seemed a bit on the shady side to me, and Wide Sargasso Sea explores many of the unanswered questions left by Charlotte Bronte’s masterpiece. From director John Duigan.

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