Michael Fassbender did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Edward Fairfax Rochester in Jane Eyre.
The film follows through the perspective of a young woman, the title character (Mia Wasikowska) as she goes through a harsh often lonely life during the mid-eighteen hundreds in England. This eventually leads her to become the governess of Thornfield Hall, the home of Fassbender's Mr. Rochester. He's presented as a mystery as much of the story focuses on uncovering that mystery as well as specifically Jane's relationship with the man. 2011 was of course a banner year for Michael Fassbender since he also appeared in Shame, X-Men: First Class, and A Dangerous Method which were released all in the same year. Jane Eyre I suppose is the smallest of these roles, though like Laurence Olivier in Rebecca, his character always seems as important as Jane despite his much more limited screentime. Now I guess Fassbender has a bit of an advantage here in that I have not seen any other actor play the role, which is long list including the likes of Orson Welles, William Hurt, and George C. Scott.
Being unable to compare I'll just have to take Fassbender's version on its own. Well the first time we see Rochester he falls riding his horse as first meets Jane. Rochester begins with his darker hues most prevalent though Fassbender downplays this with his performance. That is Fassbender does not exactly play it all, playing more like Rochester is just having a bit of fun. Fassbender underlies this with a bit of intensity, but in the end he brings more levity than one would expect as Rochester jokes about Jane having bewitched his horse. The story proceeds as Jane acts his governess and she observes Rochester go on about his life as they are separated by class. Although we are never given Rochester's perspective Fassbender makes use of his reactions towards Jane well. Fassbender portrays a greater interest in the slight glances than merely an employer watching his employee. Fassbender effectively conveys the growing affection in Rochester, though still remaining silent for the time being and keeping a certain distance, for Jane especially after she saves him from a fire.
Fassbender does not convey a simplistic attitude in Rochester though as he accentuates the history of the character in his work. This includes the history of his class as Fassbender brings the stiffness in the scenes where he interacts with others of his class, as he keeps his behavior proper though as a man being someone he is not. When he is with Jane Fassbender brings a stronger degree of honesty in the way he puts forth the man's emotions, though this in itself is still complicated. Fassbender keeps a certain pain in his manner, and still almost a shyness as he shirks from being wholly genuine for a moment. Fassbender brings the needed complexity of a man pulled back by his past, but prodded forward by something true to his heart. Fassbender brings the right awkwardness to the first scene where Rochester sort of declares his love for Jane, by asking her what she would do to ensure his happiness. Fassbender makes Rochester stumble as he should as a man at odds with himself as he says what he means, but never does it seem to be the absolute truth.
Fassbender rightfully expresses a fuller change in Rochester, after Jane leaves for a time, revealing a man who no longer wishes to risk unhappiness. Fassbender chemistry with Wasikowska is curious yet I found to be rather affecting. The connection that the two establish is very particular in that both of them reveal direct emotion, in a time defined by repression, only in their moment of revealing their love for one another. They come together exactly away from the emotional shackles implanted on them through their pasts to reveal better individuals. Fassbender brings a more active charm after the moment of declaration slowly suggesting a man finally content with his existence. Of course being a story set with a large estate though something must threaten to separate the two, this being the revelation of Rochester's pain and past which is his mad wife which prevents Jane and Rochester from being married. Of course this also must lead to further tragedy, though this story does prevent any further suffering as the two are reunited in the end, poor Rochester just needed to be blinded and scarred first. It is a surprisingly short scene yet I found it rather powerful. The scene almost entirely relies on Wasikowska and Fassbender, and they successfully find the poignancy within the reunion. The brevity of it seems right as the two already established the nature of their love, and the two show the scene to be a gentle reminder of this. Now Fassbender might have a slight advantage in that this my first exposure to a portrayal of Edward Fairfax Rochester, however all I can say is the performance worked for me. I'd be surprised if this is the definitive version of the character, but it is a compelling one.