Mansfield Park (1999)

Ordinarily, I’m a bit of a Jane Austen snob….

In Mansfield Park–a film adaptation of the Jane Austen novel–young, poor Fanny Price is sent from her overcrowded and squalid Portsmouth home to live with her widowed Aunt Norris. The invitation from Aunt Norris was based on a fleeting, charitable whim, but the whim is already gone when Fanny arrives. Fanny is quickly passed to her wealthy relatives, Lord and Lady Bertram, who live at Mansfield Park with their 4 children–Tom, Edmund, Maria & Julia. Fanny’s loneliness is compounded by Aunt Norris who is determined that Fanny should never forget her humble place in the Bertram household.

Fanny grows up at Mansfield Park and remains in touch with her impoverished family in Portsmouth. Dreadful Aunt Norris more or less rules Mansfield Park by default–this is partly due to Lord Bertram’s interests in the West Indies and partly due to Lady Bertram’s inertia and inebriation. Maria is engaged to the doltish Mr Rushworth, and while Maria acknowledges that her future husband is a fool, she is willing to overlook this fault as it is ameliorated by a large fortune. Fanny’s sole friend is Edmund–the younger son, and he is slated to become a clergyman. But then an attractive and worldly brother and sister–Henry and Mary Crawford join local society, and their presence sparks everyone’s dormant passions.

I was prepared to dislike this production from director Patricia Rozema–Jane Austen is close to my heart, so I intend to be a bit picky when it comes to screen adaptations of Austen’s novels. I did not, for example, like Emma (the Gwyneth Paltrow version), and I couldn’t abide Sense and Sensibility (Emma Thompson). I do like the BBC adaptations of Austen’s novels, however. I must admit that I almost didn’t even bother watching Mansfield Park as I dreaded yet another disappointment. However, encouraged by another Janeite I decided to give this DVD a go.

The strength of this production is in its acting and in its humour. All of the actors and actresses are top notch, and the script flowed forth with a light, ironic touch. Henry and Mary Crawford were simply perfect. Unfortunately, the script writer did seem to mingle Jane Austen (the real person) with Fanny Price when creating the Fanny Price for this film. This gave Fanny Price pertness and wit that was largely absent from the novel. Also, many excellent parts from the novel were cut, and the PC additions to the script were–quite frankly–out of place and slightly ludicrous. However, overall, I enjoyed this film version of the book–it’s not perfect, but for perfection, I can always go and read Mansfield Park yet again.

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Filed under British, Period Piece

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