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. 


I am to the point in the film where Fanny Price gets caught in a rain storm outside of the parsonage, and Dr. Grant rescues her with an umbrella and whisks her inside where creepy Mary Crawford is waiting to pounce on her next victim. My first instinct is to shout out a warning to Fanny to not go in there. An evil witch lives in that house, but it would all be for naught. It’s a set up you see. Austen wants us to feel that way. She wants us to understand Fanny’s helplessness; – her being bashed about by her family to fetch and carry and run errands and at the disposal of the neighbors too. Mary Crawford is no better. InsiImage of the DVD cover to Mansfield Park, (1983sting that she come inside and listen to her play her darn harp. All the while poor Fanny is anxiously looking out the window at the weather saying it has cleared and she must go because her aunt Norris is expecting her return. Mary thinks otherwise. That’s when Austen drops this great line into Mary’s mouth, “South or north, I know a black cloud when I see it; and you must not set forward while it is so threatening.”  This creeps me out. A chills and goose bumps moment. Like it takes one to know one, and Mary Crawford is definitely a black cloud herself. 

Besides the sinister Mary Crawford, Fanny’s not so bad, at all — and now despise me if you dare.

8 thoughts on “Mansfield Park 1983: I Know a Black Cloud When I See It

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  1. I rather like this adaptation, which I own, although in this production especially Edmund is such a prig, and at mini-series length, his sermons are over bearing. Sylvestra as Fanny is perfect, however.


  2. Oh I don’t hate her. I’ve stood up for Fanny for years. She’s not my favourite but I do love her. It’s all the people around her, even Edmund, that get on my goat.


  3. Well HELLO ladies, we may be the only 3 on earth who don’t hate Fanny!

    Edmund does seem to be over zealous in this version. His reaction to the theatricals was too strong. When characters or people seem to behave out of the norm, red flags go up for me. I’m alway suspicious of some underlying reason or hidden agenda. With Edmund my gut tells me that he secretly likes theatricals, but wants to portray the clergyman’s piety mantle.

    Sylvestra is wonderful. We understand why Fanny is Fanny, and admire her for surviving in that environment. When she stood up to Tom and said no to participating in the play, I wanted to cheer and say well done. It took great bravery to say no, and even after mean aunt Norris tells her she is ungratefu and repremands her for not complying to her counsins wishes, really twisting the knife so to speak , she holds her ground. I love it when characters suprise family members with unusual behavior. We see this Anne Eliott in Persuasion too.

    Thanks for your comments.

    Cheers, Laurel Ann


  4. I love this adaptation; Nicolas Farrell strikes me as perfect for the part. Anna Massey as Mrs Norris makes the character utterly believable. I like the slowness and care with nuances. The part that occurs in Portsmouth is very good too.

    Particular thing I like: the use of Fanny as a narrator through having her write letters to William. There are a number of sequences which begin with Fanny writing a letter and then we switch to scene after scene as a kind of montage and time passes, all the while Fanny narrates. It turns the film into deep-musing subjectivity. You don’t see this use of epistolarity until the 1995 _P&P_.



  5. It took me a while to warm to this production – but now I love it. I have it on VHS and am holding on to an old TV with built in VCR so I can watch it from time to time. I like how it tells the whole story, allowing the personalities of the characters to declare themselves through their words and actions. Austen just can’t be condensed into a two hour film, and I really do hope people will stop trying.


  6. I love this production, it’s so much better than the recent Billie Piper one. And Nicholas Farrell and Sylvestra le Touzel are perfect; for the first time I actually began to appreciate Fanny! Emma, though, has always been my favourite Austen heroine.


  7. I don’t view Mary Crawford as sinister. Nor do I see Fanny Price as the heroine of the story. I see both women as flawed beings. Fanny definitely failed to acknowledge her own flaws at the end. As for Mary . . . I don’t. Perhaps she finally did, but I don’t know.

    This isn’t a bad production, but the pacing is too slow and I found Sylvestra le Touzel’s performance rather mixed.


  8. I just finished watching “MANSFIELD PARK”. This version. I think I detest Edmund Bertram and Fanny Price. I really do. When I saw the scene in which Edmund broke his relations with Mary Crawford, I wanted to throw a shoe at the TV screen.

    Mind you, Mary was wrong to complain about Fanny rejecting Henry. But I personally saw nothing wrong with her plans regarding Henry and Maria. And I found Edmund’s reaction rather nauseating. And when the scene jumped from Edmund’s recollections of his last moments with Mary to marrying Fanny, I realized that Jane Austen wrote an incredibly bad ending to this novel.

    I’m too disgusted beyond words.


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