Okay so playing on the words audacious and ostentatious may be a little much – let’s just say that the 1999 adaptation of Austen’s Mansfield Park is certainly a different take on the piece.
However, if taken exclusively on its own merit, I found it an engaging and entertaining viewing experience. Normally, I am a little sensitive (and critical) of the cinematic liberties taken with books that I cherish (e.g., 1940 MGM Pride and Prejudice). But for some reason, probably because it was so well executed, Mansfield Park receives a special dispensation in my book.
Plot-wise, the film version is more ‘loosely based on’ than a facsimile of the source material; in the end, the finished product comes across as more of a social justice commentary/female empowerment piece, as envisioned by writer/director Patricia Rozema (Kit Kittredge: An American Girl, Grey Gardens).
The principal cast features Frances O’Connor (Fanny Price), Embeth Davitz (Mary Crawford), Lindsay Duncan (in dual roles of Mrs. Price and Lady Bertram), Alessandro Nivola (Henry Crawford), Jonny Lee Miller (Edmund Bertram) and Harold Pinter (Lord Bertram).
The basic fact that Fanny Price is sent away from a life of poverty in Portsmouth to be brought up by her wealthy aunt and uncle is one element that remains intact from text to screen.
Also consistent is that within the household, Fanny holds an inferior position to that of her cousins (Tom, Edmund, Maria, Julia). Tom, Maria and Julia are spoiled and frivolous, but it is Edmund, the gentle soul whose calling is the church, who shows any kindness to Fanny.
However, unlike Austen’s shy and retiring Fanny, Rozema has made her Fanny witty, self-assured and one who gives her opinions very decidedly. In many respects, these are aspects taken from the life of the author (Jane Austen) herself.
But I digress – back to the story. Years pass and Lord Bertram, must travel to Antigua on an urgent business matter. This event, combined with the arrival of the worldly Crawfords (Mary and Henry), and the return of reckless Tom and his desire to put on a performance of Lovers’ Vows, throw Mansfield and its inhabitants’ into total chaos. Fanny is way in as all that is happening around her.
Aside from the changing of Fanny’s nature, another deviating element in this adaptation is the depiction of some social ills, as seen in Lady Bertram’s use of drugs and what some have described as a homoerotic element to the relationship between Mary Crawford and Fanny Price.
Perhaps the most pronounced, and startling insertion into the film is the subplot of the ills of slavery. This storyline finds its way into Mansfield’s drawing room conversations as well as serving as a means of dividing Tom Bertram and his father.
These modern touches to Mansfield Park may have turned some people off, but I for one, really enjoyed seeing a period piece with some contemporary ’embellishments;’ they were well written and convincingly delivered by the actors.
Have you seen this version of Mansfield Park? If so, what did you think of it?