Jane Eyre is a book about ugly people – Casting period dramas
According to this light-hearted article in The Toast, “Jane Eyre is a book fundamentally about ugly people” and a plea is made to cast “ugly and weird-looking in period dramas”:
If I accomplish one thing in my life, let it be the increased acceptability in casting the ugly and the weird-looking in period dramas. We would all be the better for it. Interesting things happen to people with bad bone structure
The piece made me chuckle, but also pause for thought. Does it matter that every leading literary character needs to be glammed up when adapted for TV or film?
It seems everyone has to be glamorous in the TV and movie world, even when the characters have been carefully described physically, such as Marian Halcombe from The Woman in White (twice described as ‘ugly’) and Dracula (with his massive eyebrows, extremely pointed ears, hairy palms and long nails cut to a point).
We know it is done for a reason; costume dramas are expensive to make and Gwyneth Paltrow and Eddie Redmayne will attract more eyeballs than the average Joe and Josephine in the street. We’re only human. Except that it isn’t only humans, apparently. Monkeys are willing to exchange food (bananas) for photographs of lovely looking monkeys. It may be more information than you want to know but monkeys are particularly keen on looking at photographs of lovely looking monkey bottoms. And just like the monkeys, it seems we are more willing to exchange our hard won pieces of silver to see tales of plain folk if they are portrayed by the super-glamorous.
Actually it is even stranger than that. When it is wholly unacceptable storywise for a literary character to look delightfully winsome, it is usually time for a famously glamorous star to bravely “ugly up”, and thereby put themselves in the running for a BAFTA/Oscar.
Human nature isn’t going to change any time soon. It seems we only want to look at beautiful monkeys. And until that changes I suppose casting directors will carry on as usual. I ask only that a character isn’t glammed up when to do so would distort the story, or relationships within the story. By all means cast Emma Woodhouse, Tess D’Urberville and Helen of Troy – or Sir Lancelot, Dorian Gray and Jay Gatsby as raging beauties, that is more or less expected (in our heads, if not in the texts). However, please be careful about casting the likes of Elizabeth Bennet, Edward Rochester, Jane Eyre and Marian Halcombe. Their physical appearance is directly connected to the carefully constructed characters and to story relationships. What might seem like a good idea in a pre-production meeting with the Head of Finance and the Marketing Director, might not look so wise when all’s said and done. But what do I know, it’s 2am and I’m blogging about monkey bottoms while they’re casting literary blockbusters!