Sunday, December 24, 2006

Mansfield Park (1999)

This film combines Mansfield Park, Jane Austen’s letters and juvenilia and contemporary readings of Austen’s novel to present an adaptation of Mansfield Park. The overall tone is a little surreal as it tries to capture complex issues in Regency politics (slavery, class etc) in a contemporary way, which is often contrived. The use of Austen’s letters and early work in the voice of Fanny Price though an interesting and often humorous treat only serves to show up how deadening the rest of the script is. That being said Mansfield Park is the most difficult of Austen’s books to like – I admit to a bias here as MP is one of the few books I have studied that I detested and I was forced to do it at A-Level and twice in my degree! – the heroine lacks the sparkle of Austen’s other creations and her characters are all anti-heroes while the two ‘villains’ are easily the most attractive people in the novel. Yes, I know that could be said to be the point . . .

But back to Patricia Rozema’s film and let’s dwell on the good bits. I personally like the references to the slave trade, its abolition and the wealth that the Bertrams have due to the exploitation of the Caribbean. Edward Said’s Culture and Imperialism drew attention to the slavery narrative in Mansfield Park and numerous post-colonial theorists have opined about this since. This film draws on that narrative with singing on a slave ship heard at the beginning of the film, discussion about slavery within the family dialogues and the notebooks showing Sir Thomas Bertram sexually exploiting his female slaves. The film also vividly illustrates the dirt and poverty of Fanny Price’s family and the differences in class between Fanny and the Bertrams.

Lindsay Duncan’s portrayal of Lady Bertram as a drug-addled bored lady of leisure is great and Harold Pinter is a malevolent and brooding Sir Thomas, whose sinister presence is felt in Mansfield Park. Henry and Mary Crawford are attractive and lively and absolutely breathe sex appeal. I have never seen such tight breeches as those on Henry Crawford and Mary Crawford seduces every one! There is obviously an attempt to make Fanny a more lively and engaging character by giving her Jane Austen’s own voice, as well as making her more get up and go. And the concluding sum up end is fun.

However, the dialogue is wooden and the script is slow with strange discussions amongst the whole family in a manner more reminiscent of Friends than Regency England. The direction is stagey and it is clear the film is on a small budget – in one of the last scenes there is clearly a plug socket in the wall behind Lady Bertram. The scene where Edmund walks in on Henry Crawford having sex with Maria Bertram is so ridiculous as to be laughable.

After watching this, even I appreciated the book of Mansfield Park and its subtleties.

Directed - Patricia Rozema
Writing credits - Jane Austen (novel), Patricia Rozema
Pictures - Miramax
Lindsay Duncan - Mrs. Price/Lady Bertram
Harold Pinter - Sir Thomas Bertram
Frances O'Connor - Fanny Price
Jonny Lee Miller - Edmund Bertram
Embeth Davidtz - Mary Crawford
Alessandro Nivola - Henry Crawford

Buy in US

Buy in UK


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hmmm.. Did we watch the same film. I thought this adaption was the best I have ever seen. With the incorporation of Jane Austen's letters read by Fanny the director gave all of us a complete as opposed to short storied account of life in Regency England. This Fanny Price was perfect, gentile yet strong when she had to be unlike other adaptions were Fanny seemed either too reserved BBC, or giddy A&E. O'Comnor does the role justice. This is a Austen adaption although not totally true to her accounts, I think she would even be proud of.

6:30 AM  

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