Mansfield Park (2007) Movie: Musings & Discussion: Day 13 Give-away!

 

MOVIES

Interestingly, it has been exactly seven months since this adaptation of Mansfield Park aired on PBS during The Complete Jane Austen series last January. I wish that I could say that time has made my heart grow fonder, but a recent re-viewing has not changed my feelings in any respect to my original review, and I am still greatly disappointed in it. It fails as a true adaptation to Jane Austen’s masterpiece for many reasons which I and others have previously pointed out, but I think that I could have overlooked all of its blunders if the screen writer Maggie Wadey had allowed our heroine Fanny Price to have the moral fortitude and principles that Jane Austen had endowed to her in the first place! This Fanny Price is more a flighty Kitty Bennet, ready to follow than act as the moral compass for us to measure the behavior of the rest of characters against, which I believe was Austen’s intension.  

There are some who like this film and there are elements that I enjoyed and appreciated myself. The cast was excellent with one exception. Here are a few images to highlight their performances. 

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) and Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson) enjoying a ride and discussion on the grounds of Mansfield Park. Piper flopped as Fanny given nothing to work with, and Ritson was not quite staid and moralistic enough, though he was nice eye candy, looking rather like a young Rod Stewart! 

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) was duly devious and alluring and shined in the role. When she was not on screen, I was waiting for her return! Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) is a talented actor who I recently enjoyed in Brideshead Revisted, but I wanted him to be stronger and more slippery than the director Iain McDonald would allow. 

Maria Bertram (Michele Ryan) was the ultimate knock-out sultry siren! What man could resist such beauty and charm? Mr. Rushworth (Rory Kinnear) seems to be always portrayed by large slightly pudgy men who are a bit clueless! On this account, the director selected the ideal match to Austen’s intension and Kinnear plays Rushworth perfectly. Julia Bertram (Katherine Steadman) being the second fiddle to her sister Maria is thankless role in the movie and the book. Steadman was, well second fiddle. 

Sir Thomas arrives home from Antigua unexpectedly to discover his children in the throws of a theatrical. The looks on their faces tells all. This part, they got right. 

 

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) in one of her happier moments. Fanny is not given much dialogue with any substance unfortunately.  Piper gives her lots of perk though! 

Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell) looking at Edmund with impudence and authority. She will make any man who dares to love her tow the line. 

Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) regally lounges on the settee with Pug (Holly). Though not stated in the novel, I often wonder if Lady Bertram is ill or under the influence (as some actors have seemed to portray her). This Lady Bertram actually has opinions and notices her children! 

Henry Crawford (Joseph Beattie) attempts to convince Fanny Price (Billie Piper) to marry him. I never quite felt his intensity and determination as I did in the novel. Austen is so persistent in his pursuit, that at one point, I actually thought that Fanny was wavering and would succumb. This Fanny is not as appalled and repulsed as she should be. 

Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson) at the exact moment he realizes that Mary Crawford is a fake and rejects her. Ritson is at his best in this scene. 

Fanny and Edmund finally discover that they love each other, all because of the color purple. Go figure! 

Further reading and viewing 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 13 Give-away!

Leave a comment by August 30th. to be eligible for a drawing on August 31st for one copy of

Mansfield Park (2007)

Adapted by Maggie Wadey, directed by Ian B. MacDonald, an ITV & WGBH production, 92 minutes. Staring Billie Piper as Fanny Price, Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford. 

Upcoming posts
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48
Day 15 – Aug 29          MP: Sequels, Spinoff’s and Retellings
Day 16 – Aug 30          MP: What People Are Saying
Day 17 – Aug 31          MP Madness Roundup & Conclusion

Mansfield Park (1999) Movie: Musing & Discussion: Day 10 Give-away!

 

MOVIES

Take a controversial classic novel, mix in a liberal filmmaker’s re-interpretation, add in slavery, lesbianism and incest and presto! you have Mansfield Park (1999), writer-director Patricia Rozema’s provocative adaptation of Jane Austen complex novel. I don’t think that I am exaggerating when I estimate that Janeites find this one a bit puzzling. So did critics. It has spawned a rash of conversation since it premiered in 1999. Just Google it and you get 28,000 hits! The reviews where mixed and run hot or cold; no gray area anywhere for this film. Here are a few of the choice opinions.

 Mansfield Park manor house

“Stifled and tedious adaptation of an Austen classic strips the heroine of her usual power of perception and tongue.” CinemaSense 

“Rozema’s point is that Mansfield Park, and the amorous escapades of its wealthy inhabitants, are founded on and sustained by this debased form of exploitation. This is certainly an intriguing opening-out of the novel, but in doing so the film appropriates the moral high ground in a way that further distances it from the delicacy and ambiguity of Austen’s insights.” Andy Richards, BFI 

“what the film represents is the marketing of a new ‘Jane Austen’ to a post-feminist audience now receptive to its reinvention of the novel” John Wiltshire, Recreating Jane Austen (2001) 

“In the hands of a less talented filmmaker, this extensive tinkering and modernizing might seem irritating and pretentious. But in peering beneath Austen’s genteel surfaces and scraping away the Hollywood gloss that traditionally accrues to screen adaptations of Austen, Ms. Rozema has made a film whose satiric bite is sharper than that of the usual high-toned romantic costume drama.” Stephen Holden, New York Times 

“By breaking the seal, Rozema has freed costume drama from the shackles of tradition, exposing its naked flesh. The window that Thompson unsnibbed has been flung wide. Fresh air tastes good.” Angus Wolfe Murray, Eye for Film 

“an audacious and perceptive cinematic evocation of Jane Austen’s distinctively sharp yet forgiving vision” Claudia L. Johnson, Austen scholar

Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) & Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) riding together 

When Rozema was originally offered the opportunity to direct Mansfield Park she declined stating the script was boring and the heroine annoying. She then proceeded to re-write the script by perking up Fanny Price, adding a political and sexual subtext that Jane Austen would never have broached, and fixing the broken storyline (in her opinion) by working in Jane Austen’s juvenilia stories and personal letters. The results are a thought provoking jumble of reinvention and dalliance that had never been attempted with a Jane Austen adaptation before.

 A bored Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola), and a flirtatious Maria Bertram
(Victoira Hamilton) & Mr. Rushworth (Hugh Bonneville)

Austen’s novel seriously contemplates the controversial 19th-century theme of ‘improvement’ of the estate and social values. Writer-director Rozema has overtly taken it yet a step further renovating and expanding the plot and characters so much so that subtly sardonic Jane Austen might have been a bit alarmed at the liberties.

Edmund Bertram & Fanny Price discuss the Ball

Our heroine Fanny Price, energetically portrayed by Frances O’Connor, has morphed from the shy and oppressed glorified servant into an exuberant outspoken aspiring writer – what Rozema visualizes Jane Austen had been! Oh my! Fanny’s mentor, friend and love interest Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) is now a romantic, more a Byronic hero that the Bronte’s would have approved of than a pious and clueless minister in training.

Henry Crawford visits Fanny Price in Portsmouth 

The Crawford siblings (Embeth Davidtz & Alessandro Nivola) are as wicked as ever, which suits Rozema’s purpose totally as they are pushed further with lesbianism and seduction. The greatest liberty is taken in the slave trade subtext as we are shown graphic illustrations of the atrocities of slavery that the character Tom Bertram (James Purefoy) witnessed at his father Sir Thomas’ (Harold Pinter) plantation in Antigua. Even though slavery is only alluded to in the novel, this stab brings Rozema’s vision of the injustice of ill-gotten-gains sharply to view. Other notable British actors playing out this theatrical are; Lindsay Duncan (Lady Bertram/Mrs. Price), Victoria Hamilton (Maria Bertram), Hugh Bonneville (Mr. Rushworth) and Justine Waddell (Julia Bertram).

 Henry & Mary Crawford entertain their new spouses
who look more intriged with each other!

If taken as a whole this film does work on the level of art for film making’s sake. Visually it is stunning, the costumes fabulous and the music joyful. I do find it fascinating that people are still debating its merits after almost ten years. If anything, it has stimulated thought and closer reflection on what Jane Austen is about, and how she is interpreted. As a Janeite, I find watching it so distracting. If readers of the novel want to yell at Fanny Price for being so passive, then in turn I want to yell at Rozema’s Fanny for being SO vivacious. This is not Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park, but it is a worthy amusement all-the-same.

A happy ending for Fanny & Edmund 

Further reading & viewing 

“It could have turned out differently, I suppose. But it didn’t.” Fanny Price
 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 10 Give-away

Leave a comment by August 30 to qualify for a free drawing on August 31 for one copy of

 

Mansfield Park (1999)

Written and directed by Patricia Rozema. Major motion picture, 112 minutes. Staring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford 

Upcoming posts
Day 11 – Aug 25          MP Fun with Fanny & Friends
Day 12 – Aug 26          MP novel discussion chapters 33-40
Day 13 – Aug 27          MP 2007 movie discussion
Day 14 – Aug 28          MP novel discussion chapter 41-48

Mansfield Park (1983) Movie: Musings & Discussion: Day 3 Give-away

Movies

This six part BBC mini-series was adapted from Jane Austen’s novel Mansfield Park by Ken Taylor and broadcast in 1983 in the UK winning a BAFTA for costume designs by Ian Adley. Sensitively directed by David Giles, this interpretation of Jane Austen’s most complex and challenging novel is by far the most accurate attempt to follow Austen’s plot and characterizations of the three film adaptations now available on DVD. Featuring a stellar cast of notable British actors, the two main leads where played by Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. Supporting roles went to Angela Pleasence and Bernard Hepton as Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, Robert Burbage and Jackie Smith-Wood as Henry and Mary Crawford, and most notably, Anna Massey as the most annoying Mrs. Norris that anyone could envision! 

At 312 minutes over six episodes, we are privy to almost all of the novels scenes and veteran readers of Mansfield Park will recognize much of Jane Austen’s choice and witty dialogue. Some viewers might be disappointed in the production quality, as this was originally filmed on video tape and the sound does not supply the quality that we have become accustomed to since it was produced twenty five years ago. Its strengths lie in the actors performances, costumes and visual beauty as many of the scenes were actually filmed on location, which considering its budget, was a bonus. 

Because of time restraints, I will not attempt to critique the entire movie but focus on one favourite scene which I will call the ‘Sentinel at the garden gate’ from episode 2. Fanny Price and her cousins Maria, Julia and Edmund Bertram travel with Mary and Henry Crawford to the grand Elizabethan era estate of Sotherton Court to visit Maria’s fiancé Mr. Rushworth. As the couples walk through the wilderness parkland adjacent to the estate, director David Giles reveals Austen’s comedic genius in a scene that could have inspired any vintage vaudeville burlesque or modern television sitcom. When Fanny becomes fatigued, she is deposited on a park bench in the shade adjacent to a locked iron gate that has bared progress through the park. As the different groups and individuals arrive in search of each other, Fanny acts as the ‘sentinel of the garden gate’, relaying messages and explaining to everyone who has come and gone, and why. Austen’s brilliant comedic timing is in full play, and the director David Giles knows how to emphasize the right moments to build tension to the point of hilarity.

You can view the scene online here. Enjoy these screencaps with descriptions.

 Fanny Price, Mary Crawford and Edmund Bertram arrive at the locked garden gate.

Fanny is fatigued, and left on a bench as Mary and Edmund walk on together.

Henry Crawford, Mr. Rushworth and Maria Bertram
 arrive to  find Fanny and the locked gate.

After Mr. Rushworth goes to the house for the key, Henry and Maria become
 impatient and squeeze through the bars to enter the park in pursuit
of a better vantage of the grounds, or is that really the motivation?

 Fanny is alarmed and advises them to wait, but to no avail.

 

Heyday! Julia Bertam arrives in pusuit of Henry and
Maria to find Fanny alone on the bench.

Julia will not wait for the key either, and squeezes through
 the bars seeking to find Henry and Maria.

Fanny is further alarmed and worries that Julia will
harm herself or her gown, but is unheeded.

Mr. Rushworth arrives with the key! Where is Maria?

Mr. Rushworth sits with Fanny despondent, deriding the shortness of Mr. Crawford.

Mr. Rushworth decides to unlock the gate and pursue Maria and Henry. Fanny is left
 alone to continue waiting for Mary and Edmund’s return, which was much,
much longer than a anyone anticipated!

Further reading 

Mansfield Park Madness: Day 3 Give-away

 Leave a comment by August 30th. to qualify for the free drawing on August 31st. for one copy of

Mansfield Park (1983) 

BBC 6 part mini-series, adapted by Ken Taylor and directed by David Giles. 312 minutes. Staring Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price, Nicholas Farrle as Edmund Bertram and Anna Massey as Aunt Norris. 

Upcoming posts
Day 4 – Aug 18            MP Naxos (Juliet Stevenson) audio
Day 5 – Aug 19            MP novel discussion chapters 9-16
Day 6 – Aug 20            Metropolitan movie discussion
Day 7 – Aug 21            MP novel discussion chapters 17-24

Mansfield Park Madness: 17 Days of Great Give-aways!

The Free Stuff 

Austenprose is happy to announce the 17 great days of give-aways being offered during Mansfield Park Madness. To qualify for any and all of the following prizes, please leave a comment in the corresponding post(s) for the day that the prize is announced (a real comment not just a spam-ment) between August 15-30, 2008 and your name will be entered in the drawing for that prize. Multiple comments increase your chances to win. It is also possible to win multiple prizes. US residents only. Winners will be drawn and announced on August 31st, 2008. A big thank you goes out to the generous vendors who contributed the prizes to make Mansfield Park Madness fun, exciting and rewarding!  

Here is a list of the prizes to be offered and the dates they will be posted. 

Books

Mansfield Park, Oxford World's Classics (2008)

Mansfield Park: Oxford World’s Classics (Aug 15 & 25)

Oxford University Press (2008). Revised edition. Unabridged novel text. Introduction and notes by Jane Stabler with great supplemental material to enhance the text. Trade paperback, 418 pages, ISBN 978-0199535538

Oxford Illustrated Mansfield Park (1998)

The Oxford Illustrated Jane Austen: Volume III: Mansfield Park (Aug 16) 

Oxford University Press, USA (1988). Third edition. Unabridged novel text and extensive supplementary material. Hardcover, 584 pages, ISBN 978-0192547033 

Mansfield Park, Penguin (2003)

Mansfield Park: Penguin Classics (Aug 21)

Penguin Classics (2003). Revised edition. Unabridged novel text. Re-instated introduction by Tony Tanner. Trade paperback, 480 pages, ISBN 978-0141439808 

The Jane Austen Miscellany (2006)

The Jane Austen Miscellany (Aug 22) 

By Leslie Bolton, Sourcebooks, Inc. (2006). The ultimate guide of everything Jane Austen for those who just can’t get enough! Hardcover, 144 pages, ISBN 978-1402206856 

Mansfield Park, Barnes & Noble Classics (2005)

Mansfield Park: Barnes & Noble Classics (Aug 23)

Barnes & Noble (2005). Revised edition. Unabridged novel text. Introduction and notes by Amanda Claybaugh. Hardcover, 427 pages, ISBN 978-1593083564 

Mansfield Park, Broadview Press (2001)

Mansfield Park: Broadview Literary Texts Series (Aug 28)

Broadview Press (2001). Unabridged novel text. Introduction and notes by June Sturrock with extensive supplemental material including criticism to enhance the text. Trade paperback, 528 pages, ISBN 978-1551110981 

Mansfield Park, Norton Critical Edition (1998)

Mansfield Park: Norton Critical Edition (Aug 30)

W.W. Norton & Co, Inc. (1998). Unabridged novel text. Extensive supplemental material including critisms and historical information edited by Claudia L. Johnson. Trade paperback, 544 pages, ISBN 978-0393967913           

Sequels

Edmund Bertram's Diary (2008)

Edmund Bertram’s Diary, by Amanda Grange (Aug 29)

Berkely Trade (2008). A re-telling of the novel Mansfield Park from the perspective of hero Edmund Bertram in which no sermonizing or over moralizing is revealed! Trade paperback, 344 pages, ISBN 978-0425223796 

Mansfield Park Revisited (2008)

Mansfield Park Revisited: A Jane Austen Entertainment, by Joan Aiken (Aug 29)

Sourcebooks Landmark (2008). Reprint. Sequel to the novel Mansfield Park in which Fanny’s sister Susan’s story is told. Trade paperback, 208 pages, ISBN 978-1402212895 

The Matters at Mansfield (2008)

Matters at Mansfield: Or, The Crawford Affair, by Carrie Bebris (Aug 29)

Part of the Mr. and Mrs. Darcy Mysteries Series where the Pride and Prejudice’s characters go sleuthing in this decetive mystery spinoff. Hardcover, 288 page, ISBN 978-0765318473 

Central Park (2005)

Central Park: An Austen Series Book 3, by Debra White Smith (Aug 29)

The Dale Group, Rev. (2007). Contemporary re-telling of the novel Mansfield Park set in New York. Hardcover, 543 pages, ISBN  978-0786295678

Movies

Mansfield Park Movie (1983)

Mansfield Park 1983 (Aug 17)

BBC 6 part mini-series, adapted by Ken Taylor and directed by David Giles. 520 minutes. Staring Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price, Nicholas Farrle as Edmund Bertram and Anna Massey as Aunt Norris.  

Mansfield Park Movie (1999)

Mansfield Park 1999 (Aug 24)

Major motion picture written and directed by Patricia Rozema. 112 minutes. Staring Frances O’Connor as Fanny Price, Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram and Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford. 

Mansfield Park Movie (2007)

Mansfield Park 2007 (Aug 27)

ITV & WGBH production adapted by Maggie Wadley and directed by Ian MacDonald. 92 minutes. Staring Billie Piper as Fanny Price, Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford. 

Metropolitian Movie (1990)

Metropolitan 1990 (Aug 20)

Independent major motion picture written and directed by Whit Stillman. 98 minutes. Staring Carolyn Farina as Audrey Rouget, Taylor Nichols as Charlie Black and Chris Eigeman as Nick Smith. 

Ephemera

Jane Austen Journal (2007)

Jane Austen Journal, by Potter Style (Aug 19)

Paperback lined journal with the image of Regency lady and quote “We have a better guide in ourselves, if we would attend to it, than any other person can be.” 160 pages, ISBN 978-0307352392

Jane Austen Address Book (2007)

Jane Austen Address book, by Potter Style (Aug 26)

Paperback, with alphabetical tabs. Image of Regency lady and Jane Austen portrait on the front. 120 pages, ISBN: 978-0307352385 

Audio 

Mansfield Park Audio Book (2007)

Mansfield Park: The Complete Classics Series Audio Book (Aug 18)

Naxos AudioBooks (2007). A brilliant reading by the acclaimed British actress Juliet Stevenson. Unabridged 17 CD’s, ISBN: 978-9626344675, abridged 3 CD’s ISBN: 978-9626340677

    

FREE JANE AUSTEN AUDIO SAMPLER

Available to all participants of Mansfield Park Madness. Just leave a comment between August 15-30, 2008 and e-mail your physical address to Austenprose at Verizon dot net before September 1, 2008 and you will receive one copy of the following sampler by mail. US residents only.

Jane Austen Naxos AudioBooks Sampler, read by various artists 

Naxos AudioBooks, Ltd. (2008). A lively sample reading of the Biography of Jane Austen by Elizabeth Jenkins, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, Emma, Northanger Abbey, Persuasion and an interview with actress Juliet Stevenson.  1 CD, 75 minuets. 

Good luck to all, and enjoy your Austen items! 

Upcoming posts! 
Day 2 – Aug 16            MP novel discussion chapters 1-8
Day 3 – Aug 17            MP 1983 movie review and discussion
Day 4 – Aug 18            MP Naxos (Juliet Stevenson) audio
Day 5 – Aug 19            MP novel discussion chapters 9-16

Mansfield Park Madness @ Austenprose Preview

Mansfield Park Madness Banner

Mansfield Park Madness at Austenprose August 15-31 

Seventeen days of seventeen great give-aways

and Fanny too!

 

Welcome Janeites and classic literature fans. I am pleased to announce that Austenprose will be hosting a seventeen day event in celebration and re-discovery of Jane Austen’s most complex and often misunderstood novel Mansfield Park. Please join us on our daily journey of discovery as we investigate and discuss the text, movie adaptations and sequels. Here are a few highlights of what will be featured.  

Mansfield Park, Oxford Illustrated Edition (1988)

Mansfield Park Book Editions 

Current versions of the text in print published by Broadview Press (2001), Norton Critical Edition (1998), Oxford World’s Classics (2008) and Oxford Illustrated Editon (1988), Cambridge University Press (2005), Penguin Classics (2003) and Barnes & Noble Classics (2005) book editions, and the Naxos unabridged audio version (2007).  

Mansfield Park Movie (1999)

Mansfield Park Movie Adaptations 

1983: staring Sylvestra Le Trouzel and Nicholas Farrell
1999: staring Frances O’Conner and Johnny Lee Miller
2007: staring Billie Piper and Blake Ritson
Metropolitan 1990: written and directed by Whit Stillman, staring Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman 

Cover of Edmund Bertrams Diary (2008)

Mansfield Park Book Sequels 

Edmund Bertram’s Diary, by Amanda Grange
Mansfield Park Revisited, by Joan Aiken
The Matters at Mansfield: or The Crawford Affair, by Carrie Bebris  
Central Park, Debra W. Smith 

17 Great Give-aways

Don’t miss your chance to win a free copy of the 17 items that are featured over the 17 day event. Many of the novel editions, all of the movies, and all of the sequels discussed will be offered in drawings from comments left between August 15-30. Winners announced on August 31. 

Please join us –  because gentle Fanny has requested your attendance and does not want to be viewed as insipid any longer!

Cheers, Laurel Ann 

Upcoming posts
Day 1 – Aug 15            MP Madness introduction
Day 2 – Aug 16            MP novel discussion chapters 1-8
Day 3 – Aug 17            MP 1983 movie review and discussion
Day 4 – Aug 18            MP Naxos (Juliet Stevenson) audio review 

Beautiful Mansfield Park Madness banner by the handsome, clever and rich in heart Kali Pappas at Strangegirl Designs

Mansfield Park 1983: I Know a Black Cloud When I See It

Illustration by H.M. Brock, Mansfield Park, (1898)South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening.” Mary Crawford, Mansfield Park, Chapter 22 

I am currently watching the 1983 BBC mini-series of Mansfield Park staring Sylvestra le Touzel as the famously insipid Fanny Price. Poor Fanny. Traditionally, she gets a bum rap all around from readers, and her family in the novel. Of all of Jane Austen’s heroines, I think that she is the most misunderstood and under-appreciated. With this in mind, I am looking at the story from her perspective, quite determined to be her friend; the dissenting voice against the tide of derision! All Fanny bashers can stop reading now and go back to your respective corners. I am waving a white flag and calling a temporary truce in the Fanny war. 

This is my first viewing of this film adaptation. I can’t say how it has passed me by for twenty-five years since this Anglophile rarely missed a Masterpiece Theatre presentation let alone a feature film with any remote British connection. I had to think long and hard about where I was in 1983. Wow, Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher were in power, The Return of the Jedi was the top grossing film, and a gallon of gasoline costs $1.25. Gulp! It’s amazing to think that a good portion of people reading this blog weren’t even born yet. 

Continue reading

An Austen Addicts Temporary Fix

Image of The Complete Jane Austen LogoFOOLISH

why not seize the pleasure at once? How often is happiness destroyed by preparation, foolish preparation! Frank Churchill, Emma, Chapter 30

An open letter to PBS

Dear Sir/Madame:

Sunday is here, and ahem, pardon my French … but where the *&#% is my The Complete Jane Austen PBS? Now that you’ve got me totally hooked on weekly installments of adaptations of my favorite authoress’ novels, you have cut me off like Fanny Dashwood, and expect me to go cold turkey. Intolerable!

I see that you are running your quarterly pledge drive in her Sunday time slot to remind me to support my local PBS station. Torture! Now I have just witnessed those perky pledge people say Jane Austen’s name twenty times in ten minutes during the pledge breaks between the re-airing of Persuasion. They repeat ever half hour. Pure torture. Wait, now they are talking about Pride and Prejudice! Pure unadulterated torture. (moans and rolls eyes in agony)

Eureka! There is a bit of hope on the horizon. You have dangled the possibility of a new bonnet or trip to Brighton my way by offering the next-best-thing to a Jane Austen adaptation; – - a program about the making of the Jane Austen adaptations entitled Celebrating The Complete Jane Austen! Hurrah!

I am all anticipation as the familiar opening musical fanfare rolls in with the voice over.

Now enter Jane Austen’s world, and go behind the scenes for a look at the Public television event of the season.

Host Lisa Daniels gives the introduction to the program teasing us with the prospect of learning the inside story of the making of The Complete Jane Austen with interviews of the executive producer Rebecca Eaton, screenwriter Andrew Davies, and Austen scholar Dr. Marcia Folsom. She continues with exclaiming that Jane Austen is the ‘it’ girl of the twenty-first century. Ok. You’ve got my attention.

Fifteen minutes into an hour program, you cut to a local pledge drive and then jump back and forth between the two like a tennis match for the rest of the hour without much new information revealed.

This is now The Complete Jane Austen Torture.

This will not be bourne. We are seriously displeased and if you can’t play nice, we are sending Lady Catherine over to restore peace and harmony.

Regards &C

Laurel Ann

Blogmistress, Austenprose

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