Mansfield Park (2007) on Masterpiece Classic – A Review: No Hope of a Cure

Image from Mansfield Park 2007 Billie Piper and cast © 2007 Masterpiece PBS

“My dear Miss Price,” said Miss Crawford, as soon as she was at all within hearing, “I am come to make my own apologies for keeping you waiting; but I have nothing in the world to say for myself-I knew it was very late, and that I was behaving extremely ill; and therefore, if you please, you must forgive me. Selfishness must always be forgiven, you know, because there is no hope of a cure.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 7

Today I am feeling much like that supercilious Mary Crawford in Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park; selfish, greedy and smug. I want my Jane Austen adaptations served up to me according to my wishes. Right now!

Three weeks into The Complete Jane Austen presentation on PBS and I’m still waiting to be wowed. Was the 1995-97 adaptation spree a fluke? Has Colin Firth’s performance as Mr. Darcy in Pride & Prejudice spoiled me from ever enjoying any other adaptation? As singer Peggy Lee crooned, “Is that all there is?”

This brings me squarely to the latest installment, Mansfield Park, which if I may be so bold is not an easy novel to understand and even more of a challenge to adapt to the screen. The misunderstanding of the novel is certainly not from lack of effort. Of Jane Austen’s entire canon, Mansfield Park has erupted more heated discussion than any of her other novels, resulting in the infamous ‘Fanny wars‘ among academics and amateurs alike. In defense of our Jane Austen, we happily trample gently and wield a big cluebat.

This adaptation presents a large and handsome cast of the usual Regency lineup; the poor relation and waif heroine Fanny Price (Billie Piper), who has been conscripted as a child into the household of her wealthy and privileged aunt and uncle, Lady (Jemma Redgrave) and Sir Thomas Betram (Douglas Hodge) to the family country manor Mansfield Park (Newby Hall). Fanny’s indolent cousins rule her world; heir apparent and gambling boozer Tom (James D’Arcy), and spoiled sisters Maria (Michelle Ryan) and Julia Bertram (Catherine Steadman). The only one on the straight and narrow among this tribe is our pious hero, and Fanny’s only friend Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson).

Enter into the neighborhood two scheming siblings; acerbic Mary (Hayley Atwell) trolling for a rich husband, and hedonistic Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) determined to make Fanny fall in love with him to “make a small whole in her heart”, and you have all the ingredients for an interesting story. Unfortunately, the majority of the original nuances and wit in the novel ends up in the round file. In defense of screen writer MaggieWadley, she was hired for a fool’s errand. The only person qualified to pare down this 473 page intricately detailed work (Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen) into ninety minutes of screen time would be Jane Austen herself, and unfortunately she was not available.

So much of the original plot has been eliminated, that after the first fifteen minutes, I put aside my expectations of re-visiting my memories of Jane Austen’s prose, and attempted to enjoy the essence of the plot and characters. Given the restriction of time, this adaptation directed by Ian B. MacDonald whips along at a frenetic pace, touching on themes and condensing all of it’s action to one beautiful location, the house and grounds of Mansfield Park. Gone are the neighboring homes of the Rectory of Mrs. Grant where the Crawford’s reside, the cottage of Mrs. Norris, the estate of Mr. Rushworth, Sotherton Court, and the Price family residence in Portsmouth. One can only assume that these deletions were agreeable to the budget, and not meant as a slight to the viewer! Ack! I felt like I was on a Jane Austen restricted diet.

The majority of actors were well cast with a few exceptions and standouts. I tried to like Billie Piper as Fanny, but she had so little to say, that I am not sure if I should blame it on her acting or the script which had her stone faced in the sidelines, dutifully fetching and carrying for her cousins, and simpering on cue. When she finally opposes her uncle Sir Thomas wishes for her to accept the proposal of Henry Crawford, I was not convinced by her actions or words that she could have been capable of pleading her case against such a strong patriarch. Our hero Edmund Bertram’s best scenes were unfortunately not with our heroine, but played out with his love interest Mary Crawford. I was relieved that he was allowed to actually have more than a few lines with her, and their final scene together ending his infatuation of her was his best. My favorite performance was by Michelle Ryan as willful Maria Bertram. When she is on screen, her presence was so compelling that it demands your complete attention. Other actresses with this same quality from the golden age of Hollywood such as Vivian Leigh or Ava Gardner learned to develop their acting beyond their striking beauty to command recognition. Miss Ryan is well on her way to stardom, and I hope to see her in a more expanded capacity.

I would like to conclude my review of Mansfield Park with a brief costume and hair roundup. Since so much of the script did not reflect the original novel, I was resolved to focus my review entirely on the costumes in the film until I learned that the majority of the frocks here designed by others, and appropriated from previous Jane Austen adaptations. For shame producers. You can get the complete runway rundown here. I must interject that the costume designer did give us the requisite cleavage for the nasty female antagonist, and the big messy hair for the male cad. Thank you very much. I’m not sure that I would have been able to identify them otherwise. I was also amused to learn that the hair designer Mary Southgate had in addition to her many credits in grand Opera, worked as the hair designer on The Muppet Show. This may allow for the un-Regency like mop top do of Miss Piper.

And, I would like to extend my sincere congratulations and thanks to Holly the Pug, for timing her barks, snorts and growls with such precise conviction and emotion. Besides Miss Piper’s bleached bimbo hurricane hair, she was the funniest part of this adaptation.

Image courtesy © 2007 Masterpiece PBS; text © 2008 Laurel Ann Nattress, Austenprose

21 thoughts on “Mansfield Park (2007) on Masterpiece Classic – A Review: No Hope of a Cure

  1. Your review manages to capture precisely what is wrong with the film, while providing the reader with interesting facts at the same time. In my review I hone in on the film’s most glaring fault – its lack of fidelity to the actual drama, which is not whether Edmund will marry Fanny or Mary, but Fanny’s amazing ability to hold to her moral ground despite great emotional and material pressures from almost everyone around her.

    We both agree that we have yet to see a great Austen film emerge from this series. I’m having fun watching them, though. Second to reading a Jane Austen novel, there is nothing better than to watch a movie based on her work.

    Like this

  2. Northanger Abbey had charm of a sort, but both Persuasion and Mansfield Park were deeply disappointing. It is almost as if the heroines in both were chosen for their lack of good looks. Both needed clean hair! and better styling. Small point, perhaps, but emblematic of the attention paid to these main characters. We’ve been waiting since the first announcement of this series for the wonderful treat in store for us. Unfortunately, we’ll have to go back to our DVDs to find Jane Austen at her best.

    Like this

  3. I must add, after watching MP last night, that the dresses were not the only thing recycled. The music played during Fanny’s opening dance at her birthday picnic (odd as it seemed) was the same music played at the Meryton Assembly in P&P3 entitled “Meryton”.

    Like this

  4. Excellent Review Laurel Ann.

    Truncated and disloyal are the two words that spring to my mind for this adaptation.

    I too was thrust into a most unwelcome reflection upon production budgets as, one after another, anticipated scenes were sacrificed to keep all the action down on the Manse. But when I realized that we would not be going to Portsmouth, I really lost all patience.

    Fanny is meant to be the moral compass by which every other character in the story is measured. She came across as a downtrodden bystander rather than as the exemplar of the ‘right line of conduct’ that Austen intended.

    Like this

  5. It is a puzzle why people who write screenplays and direct them gush about the genious of Jane Austen and then proceed to alter her characters almost beyond recognition. They tried to turn Fanny into a silent, resentful Elizabeth Bennet. Fanny is delicate, shy and totally dominated by her aunt. This relationship, which was so key to the life that Fanny had to live, was almost totally ignored in this adaptation. Unfortunately for this series, Mansfield Park needs more time than 90 minutes to portray the complexity of the characters. As disappointing as it was, it was still a vast improvement over the last BBC Mansfield Park.

    Like this

  6. I ditched my TV more than a year ago, but I have the video of this Mansfield Park from the internet sitting on my laptop, unwatched. After reading reviews like yours and Ms. Place’s, I now can’t get myself to watch it.

    I think their dropping the Portsmouth visit was a terrible mistake. Was Lovers’ Vows in this production?

    Like this

  7. I’m a few days late. It matters not. The only word that I can apply to this, this thing is despicable. Despicable.

    It horrifies me that Jane Austen’s masterpiece(s) are treated in this infamous manner. That said, the Mansfield Park “adaptation” (shudder) is the worst of all in this new round of treatments.

    Like this

  8. After waiting so long and being so excited to have new Austen BBC productions – I must say that I have been very disappointed with each production. BBC should have produced one excellent production instead of three mediocre adaptions – Happy to see that the splendid Ehle and Firth “Pride and Prejudice” will be shown instead of a new production.

    I wish I could be happy with my new DVD’s, but I suspect that I will not often watch any of them.

    Like this

  9. Where is Jane’s famous wit, humor, satire for which we all love her. Have these “adapters” even read her books? I was so relieved that they dared not try to adapt P & P.

    Like this

  10. Hi Gayle, thanks for your contribution and comments. This adaptation was a far cry from the novel. Some people did enjoy it, but I am holding out for another attempt, hopefully in conjuction with the anniversary of it’s publication in 2014? It seems a long time to wait, but hopefully they can get it right by then.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann

    Like this

  11. Pingback: Mansfield Park (2007) Movie: Musings & Discussion: Day 13 Give-away! « Austenprose

  12. Pingback: Austenprose Celebrates It’s First Year Anniversary - What Would Dear Jane Say? « Austenprose

  13. Pingback: Austenprose Celebrates It’s First Anniversary - What Would Dear Jane Say? « Austenprose

  14. Pingback: Malenes bogblog» Blog Archive » Mansfield Park af Jane Austen

  15. This version, to quote Dot Parker, “wasn’t just plain terrible, this was fancy terrible. This was terrible with raisins in it”

    Like this

  16. I haven’t seen a version of “MANSFIELD PARK” that I would consider perfect or near perfect. All three versions are heavily flawed. But I must admit that I found this adaptation bearable to watch. I refuse to label it as terrible.

    Like this

  17. I’m so glad I’m not the only one! The 2007 adaption is TERRBILE. Although I may not be the best of authorities (I had to stop watching it after 10 minutes when I realized they not only skipped past Fanny’s youth but also the play), I’d recommend not seeing it. The portrayal of Fanny is totally off: she’s not seditious with contempt, but rather submissive with regret. I was leant this movie by my spoiled cousin who I would like to describe as the embodiment of the Bertram siblings (with the exception of Edmund); she highly recommended it to me, after I read the book – she would never pick up a book herself although she entertains a notion of her own intellectual superiority which is to say the least sickening. This only confirms to me how stupid she and how terrible the production actually is.

    Like this

  18. The eyebrows!!! What were they thinking! It is crazy to have a lead with hair one colour and eyebrows another, it distracts in every single shot.

    Like this

  19. watched this when it first out over in Britain and I was sorely disappointed – Billie Piper – totally wrong for the part and not a good enough actress. The 1995 P&P is not my favourite adaptation of this book, the earlier 1980 British TV programme is much better and I will not make a comment about the 2005 film

    Like this

  20. Laurel Ann,
    I could not agree more. Was a disappointment, but your review was a delight to read. Brilliant, in fact!

    What did you think of the 1999 Mansfield Park movie? I actually really liked it b/c they put some of JA’s personality into the drab Fanny. It’s saucy.

    Sarah @WordHits

    Like this

Comments are closed.