“So, so Jane!” ~ or ~ Ode to Timothy Dalton

I was going to post this for Valentine’s Day, but then I spent that day editing my master thesis and also cleaning out the drain of my shower which was clogged engaging in a number of fabulous, glamorous and very, very romantic activities, so I never got around to it.

But my idea was that I would share with you some of my favourite romantic pieces of literature. That would make a good top 5 or top 10, I figured. Except once I tried to come up with 5 or 10 examples I realized that I’m not in the habit of reading romantic novels. When I sit down to read it’s usually a novel about a decadent literature critic who goes on a self-destructive drunken rampage. Or the story of an ornamental woman who is slowly killed by the society that created her. Or even a short story about a neurotic Fillyjonk. I don’t read a lot of romance stories. Now, maybe this is simply because I’m a cold cynic who scorns the concept of love. Or maybe – and I think this is more likely to be the answer – maybe I’ve already got all the romance I need covered by just one book, namely Jane Eyre.

Because Jane Eyre remains the most satisfyingly romantic novel I’ve ever read, and I doubt it that anything more romantic will ever be written. And the reason why it’s so romantic is that the description of the relationship between Jane and Mr Rochester is such an incredible, ahead-of-its-time piece of feminist art. Charlotte Brontë very carefully resists ever getting Jane and Rochester together before they can face each other as equals, never stooping to let the woman come out as the victim or the damsel in distress. While never compromising a literary style that transcends any sense of something predictable or schematic, she carefully weighs Jane and Rochester against one another until she finds that their power over one another is perfectly balanced. Tricking Jane into believing that you’re marrying a rich, conceited bitch, are you, Rochester? Well, Brontë will make sure that Jane has a chance to trick you into believing that she’s marrying a frigid, classically handsome minister. And so forth.

And let’s face it, Charlotte Brontë hadn’t even needed to go through all that trouble. I mean, come on. She totally had us at the proposal scene. Anyone who’s ever read that proposal scene will be ready for Jane and Rochester to just go ahead and get married right away. Yeah, sure, it’s obvious that Edward is hiding something from Jane and that Jane would always be the Servant who was Swept Away by the Master if the marriage were to take place at this point. But it’s romantic enough that we’re willing to overlook that. But Charlotte Brontë isn’t, and that’s why Charlotte Brontë wrote this novel and we didn’t. And also why unlike most romantic novels, Jane Eyre never leaves you with a bad taste in your mouth, and you can read it over and over again and still find new details to gush over and love.

But the novel wasn’t really what I wanted to write about. There are whole (excellent!) blogs dedicated to Brontë novels already. No, what I wanted to write about was Timothy Dalton and the fact that he is the definitive Edward Rochester. Timothy Dalton played Mr Edward Fairfax Rochester in the BBC television series adaptation from 1983. Now, that series may have had its faults: It’s from that BBC era in which all the outdoors scenes still looked as if they were filmed with somebody’s home video camera, and while Zelah Clarke looked right for the part of Jane, she just wasn’t much of an actress in my opinion and wasn’t convincing in the dramatic scenes to me. But it’s a pretty great adaptation apart from these little peeves, and even if it hadn’t been, it would have had its raison d’être in Timothy Dalton’s Rochester, because he simply nails that part. There have been other great Rochesters, most notably Toby Stephens and William Hurt, but Dalton is in a league of his own. Dalton is so great in the dramatic scenes that you hardly even notice Clarke. Just look at this scene (major spoilers ahoy!):

But the thing with Rochester is that he isn’t just dramatic and angsty all the time, a walking, brooding enigma the mysteries of whom poor little Jane can only hope one day to fully understand. He’s also a really funny guy, and one of the things that make Jane and Rochester seem like convincing equals is the fact that Brontë has managed to describe them as a couple that actually have fun together. Rochester has a sense of humour, and Jane shares it, and this is partly what makes them respect each other. And Timothy Dalton carries off this part of the relationship wonderfully:

I *heart* his amused expression after “You little niggard!”! Dalton has that humourous twinkle in his eyes that William Hurt’s melancholy portrayal just doesn’t deliver, while his haunted declaration that Jane’s farewell is “blank! and cool!” has a gravity to it that Toby Stephens lacks. I also love how elegantly Dalton plays off the problematic governess/master relation that I always felt was an important factor in this scene. While Jane is acutely aware that she, as a governess, lingers somewhere ambiguously and dangerously between being a member of the household and a mere servant, Dalton’s Rochester is more than willing to gloss over the issue, and thus he first smirks when Jane tries to be all business about her salary, and then gets frustrated when Jane coolly and professionally executes her job as a governess, “teach[ing him]” how to say a goodbye.

Luckily, it’s not goodbye forever, though, and man does Dalton give good romance in the proposal scene. Best Rochester kiss ever:

“As we are. So… so, Jane!”

So, yeah. I like Timothy Dalton. I think he’s a sophisticated actor with a wide range. I also think that this made him the most underrated James Bond ever. I guess Sean Connery will always be the definitive Bond, but Timothy Dalton is my personal favourite Bond. If I were to be a Bond girl and I could choose between all the Bonds, this is the Bond I would go for. He even gets the subtle humour of Mozart operas – look at him laughing heartily during Le Nozze di Figaro!

“LMAO! I can’t wait till Marcellina realises that Figaro is really her long-lost son in the third act. Da Ponte’s writing cracks me the hell up.” That’s clearly what Bond whispers to Kara at 2:53 in the scene. While the other Bonds may be good at maneuvering in the boudoir, Dalton’s 007 also challenges his women intellectually and can hold his own in an opera house, and his interaction with Kara the Cellist in The Living Daylights is the best Bond/Bond girl interaction in the history of Bond, if you ask me. License to Kill was a pretty bad movie (sharks? What the hell?), but Dalton is great even in that one. I particularly like the subtle agony he displays as Bond finds out that his friend’s wife has been raped and murdered on her wedding night: James’s own bride Tracy was killed on her wedding night as well, in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service, and Dalton is the only 007 who’s been dark and sophisticated enough to pay any convincing hommage to this part of the Bond backstory.

The one question remains: What happened to Timothy? Why has the world been so poor at administering this talent that Dalton had to stoop to playing Rhett Butler in that ridiculous Gone With the Wind sequel Scarlett in 1994? And, even worse, to playing the male lead in a 1997 comedy called The Beautician and The Beast opposite Fran f-ing Drescher??!

That’s just plain wrong, if you ask me.  But at least now there’s a fan page for Dalton on facebook. I’ve joined it, and so can you – link is here.

12 responses to ““So, so Jane!” ~ or ~ Ode to Timothy Dalton

  1. I totally agree – Timothy Dalton is the ultimate Rochester. Just too bad he was opposite Zelah Clarke, who true enough had the looks but not the acting skills for Jane. In a perfect world Dalton would have acted with Ruth Wilson who did a wonderful Jane in the 2006 adaptation.
    I guess Timothy Dalton is enjoying life and perhaps acting a bit on the side. I know that he was Lord Asriel in the His Dark Materials trilogy in London some years ago, and I regret deeply not having attended that performance. I imagine he was as perfect for Lord Asriel as he was for Rochester.

  2. atthelighthouse

    Ah, that’s good to hear – not that you missed out on his performance of course, but that he seems to be doing well with his stage career. I’ve never seen any of his theatre work myself, but I can imagine that he would be the kind of actor who truly thrives on stage.
    I guess it’s mostly the Fran Drescher movie that I can’t wrap my mind around. The definitive Edward Rochester. Playing opposite The freakin’ Nanny. (But then I’ll admit that I’ve never seen it. There’s a theoretic possibility that it could turn out to be an unexpected masterpiece.)

  3. LOVE, LOVE, LOVE Dalton as Rochester AND Bond. Such totally different roles but he nailed both of them perfectly. “Dalton is in a league of his own.” Well he always does that no matter what the part, yet he’s so under-appreciated it’s not even funny. Nice post, always glad to see people appreciating the man’s astounding work.

    • atthelighthouse

      Dear Ruth
      Thank you for commenting – I, too, am glad to find that there are other appreciaters out there of Timothy Dalton’s talent!


  4. Thank you very much for your article. I totally agree that Timothy Dalton is the definitive Rochester. From the time I saw the 1983 “Jane Eyre”, any other versions just seemed to pale into the background. Apart from him probably being too gorgeous to be Rochester, his performance trumps all others. I am definitely a member of your “Timothy Dalton Appreciation Club”!

  5. Hi, I enjoyed your article very much, and totally agree that Timothy Dalton is THE best Rochester. After seeing this mini series I went out and read the book and I could relive every scene of the series. I think it is the most faithful of the adaptations. I liked Zelah Clarke’s portrayal of Jane. Another good adaptation is the 1970’s version starring Michael Jayston. Just going over to join his Facebook fan page, thanks for the link!

    • atthelighthouse

      Dear Nancye Hill,
      You’re very welcome! I’m glad you liked the article and always pleased to meet a fellow admirerer of Timothy Dalton and his Rochester. I have only seen short clips from the Michael Jayston, but remember liking him in the part as well and thinking, in particular, that Jayston looked exactly right for the part of Rochester. With your recommendation, I will definitely check it out.


  6. Ever since I ordered the dvd ~ “Jane Eyre” back in April 2012 (can you imagine never seeing this amazing performance before this) I think I have become obsessed with Timothy Dalton. His voice, his beautiful sexy voice with just the right accent, and breathtaking looks and passion! He pours his heart and soul into his work like only few of the greats have succeeded in accomplishing. My heart was aching as I watched “Jane Eyre” for the first time as this version reflected and reminded me of my past heartaches in life, in a sense, and then there was Mr. Rochester, the man who loved and protected this woman with all his heart, who teased and played….and it was at that precise moment I knew that was the kind of man I’ve waited all my life for. Back to reality….yes, I know that was just superb acting but I have been researching this man in my every spare moment ever since and with everything I read and the other great works for which he starred (or not) he is a man of passion in all ways (I’ll bet) with a hidden sense of humor under all that British formality. He is a private man for sure. Even at age…what 66 or 68? he is still gorgeous and his voice is still penetrating and I agree with you that he is probably one of the most under-appreciated actors of his and our time! If we could all have but just one dream come true, mine would be to meet this beautiful man who continues to intrigue and fascinate my searching soul. And! I wouldn’t be opposed to spending the day fishing with him either! LOL!!!

  7. pamela cathey mills

    i greatly admire this man as an actor..he is under appreciated, superb and so inwardly and outwardly beatiful… i have always been and will always be a fan….pamela

  8. As a Timothy Dalton fan (who just watched “The Living Daylights” last night–first time I’d seen it on DVD) I want to throw in that a] I really enjoyed him in “Jayne Eyre”, too; b] he’s almost perfect as the self-seeking but at odd time tender Oliver Seacomb in “Centennial” and c] he was wonderful in last year’s “Chuck”. In Chuck, he got to play evil, nice and nerdy and did all three excellently. Wish they would have brought him back in season 5 but not sure what they would have done with him.

  9. Timothy Dalton is everything Rochester is supposed to be – for those who really love and read and re-read the book. He is boisterous, arrogant, desperate, funny, sexy, passionate, icecold, loving, overbearing, Macho, lost little Boy, life-weary old man…. everything. A psychologically perfect portrait of Edward Fairfax Rochester. I love the 2006 version as well, although it is not as close to the book – but here both characters have a wonderful chemistry, and Toby is a very sensual, very, very lovable Rochester, Ruth a perfect Jane…William Hurt (totally boring, no Rochester at all!!!! lackluster performance!!) is as much a desaster as is the newest version, MIchael Fassbender. Both films go for pretty pictures (and they are wonderful, no doubt), but that’s all their directors cared about! The story between Jane and Rochester itself hardly exists – especially the 2011 version is hard to believe. As if the director didn’t even read or understand the book. Timothy Dalton is definitely the closest to the book, the best actor of them all (volcan like!!) – more than admirable – a true and living Rochester… forever…

  10. Oh… I forgot to mention: I’m German – and I can easily confirm that Timothy Dalton’s art is definitely appreciated all over the world – very much so. He is… one of a kind, no doubt. I would have loved to see him on stage, as Orsino, Oberon or any other Shakespearian hero…

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