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The Complete Jane Austen "Mansfield Park" by Diane Danielson

Masterpiece Classic

by Diane K. Danielson

Let's start off this review by stating for the record that I'm not a Jane Austen purist. I thoroughly enjoy creative film interpretations (Clueless, Metropolitan, Bridget Jones' Diary, Jane Austen Book Club, and even arguably, You've Got Mail), which should not be surprising considering I wrote a technology book with a Jane Austen theme. I also understand the difficulty of adapting the complexity of a JA novel into a condensed 90-minute version. Hence, the nomenclature: "adaption."

True to form, Mansfield Park (2007) is an "adaption" that had to leave out a lot of background and character development. Now, for Mansfield Park or Austen-neophites, this might be just fine, or it might have left them wondering a bit about why characters made certain decisions. I look at it just like the musical Les Miz. It always baffled me how they could cut out major character subplots, yet still come up with a phenomenal adaption clearly understood and enjoyed by purists and newbies alike. While Mansfield Park (2007) is no Les Miz (although it leads one to wonder why JA hasn't made it to Broadway yet), it's an entertaining film that left me smiling at the happy ending. Let's be honest, all I want from JA is wit, social satire and a happy ending. So, this one hit that mark, but clearly wasn't my favorite.

I won't waste time with a plot summary. See wikipedia's plot summary. But Mansfield Park has always been the most challenging or perhaps challenged novel from JA as noted in the following excerpt from the Metaphilm blog:

Then comes a great piece on the seriously misunderstood Mansfield Park: "In Whit Stillman's intriguingly Austenesque film, Metropolitan, Tom Townsend ...is astonished when Audrey Rouget ...reveals that she enjoys Mansfield Park. Everyone knows, Tom says, that Mansfield Park is the worst novel Jane Austen wrote, and nobody likes the book's heroine, Fanny Price. Audrey, the moral center of the film and very much a Fanny Price character herself, protests simply, 'I like Fanny Price.'"

I volunteered to review Mansfield Park, precisely because it was the JA novel I knew the least and as pointed out above, one of the least liked. I vaguely remember reading it in either college or high school. So, in some sense seeing it as a film this week, I had an open mind. But, what caught my attention most were the contrasts throughout, which at times could be distracting and disconcerting; yet at other times added an interesting layer of complexity, which I think is just as JA would have liked.

*Billie Piper, an unknown to me, but a clearly popular English actress known for her role on Dr. Who, plays Fanny Price. I kind of liked her, but found she reminded me too much of Scarlett Johansson. This was disconcerting, because I can't picture Scarlett playing virtuous. Then there was the matter of the dark bushy eyebrows and the loose flowing blond hair. It seemed too modern, especially considering she represented the most "old-fashioned" values.

*What happened to Mrs. Norris? While I quite understand having to cut out and cut back on some characters in an adaption, but Mrs. Norris was barely present. Clearly an Austen newbie would never make the connection to Argus' Filch's cat named Mrs. Norris in Harry Potter, as Mrs. Norris was just not that annoying (or amusing) in this film.

*Another challenging character for me was Mary Crawford, the money-chasing schemer. I actually liked her the best. Maybe having a few decades of life experience under my belt since I first read Mansfield Park, I've come to appreciate women unafraid to speak their mind and who, for better or worse, know what they want and have the gumption to go after it with no apologies. My guess is a Mary Crawford of today would be running a company and forgoing romance entirely.

*Optimism v. pessimism. We're first introduced to Mary and Henry Crawford as they discuss marriage. I've always been of the school of thought that marriage is as optimistic an endeavor as could ever exist. Yet, Mary and Henry made me laugh out loud right at the beginning as their take on marriage was that it leads to "deceit and disappointment." They are sadly correct on so many levels.

*Sir Thomas Bertram struck me as someone suffering from Narcissist Personality Disorder. He is a control freak, lacking in empathy, overly concerned with his own reputation and manipulative of others. He doesn't have any regard for Fanny until Henry shows an interest and she suddenly becomes useful to him. While I did appreciate his line about wayward daughter Maria: "I thought my daughter would be good, not just good-mannered," I found it amusing in that I'm not sure Maria was either. Moreover, like him, there is a question as to whether he is "good" (the family fortune was made on the backs of slaves), or even "good-mannered" (he's quick to toss insults around).

*As for Maria, who ends up deserting her husband for Henry, she comes off as a Borderline Personality craving the constant attention and immediate gratification of shopping, parties, and affairs. She clearly has no empathy for how her actions affect others. In fact, she and Henry quite deserve all the unhappiness they will likely bring to each other.

*I suppose I also found Fanny a bit hypocritical this time around in that she can't believe Henry could turn off his ardor for Maria and suddenly fall in love with her. Yet, she fully believes Edmund can abruptly stop loving Mary and do the same. Of course she was correct in her gamble on love.

But, isn't that what we like most about JA? When good finally triumphs over evil? When optimism wins out over pessimism? Because at the end of the film, it's why we can't help but smile as Fanny says to Edmund at their wedding: "Is it possible to be this happy?" And, Edmund replies: "Yes. Let's make it our business, Mrs. Bertram, to be happy ever after."

Maybe Mansfield Park isn't quite so popular because of the juxtapositions and the character flaws of just about everyone in the story. And, this film adaption underscores that with its uneveness. But, perhaps that's what makes it the most human story of them all.

Comments

Sadly, trying to squeeze any Jane Austen masterpiece into 90 minutes is, obviously, impossible. So much of the story has been left out, much of what is seen doesn't fit together. My Jane Austen book collection does not collect dust....I have read them over and over through the years and shall continue. Nice try PBS, but your previous mini-series depictions of these timeless stories were much better.

Whatever I saw on my television tonight -that wasn't Mansfield Park. It was more like "Mansfield Park! - Now With More Sprinting!" or maybe "Fanny Price - Now 100% Sprightlier!" Perhaps even -"Half the Dialogue, Twice the Fun!"

You know what? If you're going to change it all up, really change it all up. Do it as a puppet show, act it out with William Wegman's dogs, hire some mimes, turn it into a rock concert. ( Mansfield Park Rocks!) Just... don't do that thing, where it's all anachronistic, and everyone is spouting pop psychology two hundred years before it was invented, and ... gah. Throwing some costumes at it doesn't make it 'historic'. Part of the joy of reading Austen is the insight it gives us into how people lived. They WEREN'T just like us - their social order was as weird and intricate as eleventh-centure Japanese court life.So give us some of the strange - don't just give us mashed-up modernized-but-in-cool-old-bosom-showing-dresses Austen lite.

Bring on the puppet show!

I believe that the new theme song is terrible. I hope that PBS will change it. Thank You.

The previous mini series was head and shoulders above this version. It turned me off when Fanny showed up with all that Blonde! hair. I know it is old-fashioned to say so, but in my book blonde does not equal "deep".

I know it was only one and one-half hour movie, but all the nuances that made the original memorable are missing. Fanny's background, her mother, her interaction with Mrs. Norris, and especially Edmond being in love with her. In the original, Edmond's love for Fanny "dripped" off him. In this version, had the book not "called" for the Edmond-Fanny union, there was nothing to suggest the Edmond part in it.

The only character I like equally or maybe a little better than the orginal was Mary Crawford. The previous Mary Crawford had a streak of viciousness that gave her a hard edge that was offputting. In this version Mary Crawford had a teasing playfullness under her tell-it-like-it-is attitude that made her out-for-what-I-can-get persona "go down a litle easier".

This Masterpiece Theatre adaptation of Mansfield Park was simply terrible. Fanny Price’s character in the book is one of humility, virtue and piety, and she is a spiritual and studious girl who sees people and situations for what they are. This Fanny is simply a shy girl. The reason for her refusal to marry Crawford was unsatisfactory and lacked the potency that the book held. And why did Edmund have to act like a silly caricature of a teenager when he realized he was in love with Fanny? Overall there was too much dancing, too much drama and not enough meat to make this a meal. I was very surprised that Masterpiece Theatre made such a disappointingly weak adaptation.

I found this Mansfield Park quite disappointing. Yes, this tends to be the least loved of all the Austen books but that does not provide an excuse for all the missing parts. Mrs Norris's treatment of Fanny, the relationship between fanny and her aunt/cousins, Mr Bertram's warming towards Fanny until she denies mr crawford, the juxtaposition of Mansfield Park with her home in Portsmouth. Mary Crawford was the best part of this entire film I always found the Francis O'Connor as Fanny adaption to be the best adaption (except for Colin Firth's P&P) out there and this new adaption strenghtens my belief.

Loved the comment by Kimberley. Taking it even farther, one of the biggest problems with adaptations like this is that they muck up the original at will, but not _quite_ freely: they keep one foot stuck in the quicksand by putting in bits from the book after it no longer matters, e.g. If neither Aunt Norris nor Maria is who she was in the book, there's no sense in Fanny's wondering which of them will have the worse of it; if Fanny is never heard to uphold her principles, there's no sense in Sir Thomas's discovering her superiority after all. I did, however, enjoy (in a speculative-fiction, alternate-universe way) seeing sober Edmund and severe Fanny cavorting like Tom Jones and Molly Seagrim--the better to appeal to the young folks, no doubt.

Re: Kimberley's comments on Jane Austen lite: Here, here!

This adaptation was disappointing. Why is our heroine vivacious and outgoing and BLONDE? Fanny Price is supposed to be an introvert and boring, its part of her unique charm! And as I remember, Mary Crawford isn't supposed to be slutty (what was with the whole "let me show a room full of strangers my red stockings" bit?)

Its not the actress' fault here, its whoever did the screenplay. They gave the characters something markedly different than the original text to work with.

Oh, but Miss Austen HAS made it to Broadway, if only briefly.

Per wikipedia:

'First Impressions' (1959) is a Broadway musical with music and lyrics by George Weiss, Robert Goldman, and Glenn Paxton, and book by Abe Burrows, based on the stage adaptation by Helen Jerome of Jane Austen's classic novel Pride and Prejudice. The Broadway production premiered at the Alvin Theater, New York City, on March 19, 1959, and played 84 performances. The stars of the original cast were Hermione Gingold (as Mrs. Bennet), Polly Bergen (as Elizabeth Bennet), and Farley Granger (as Mr. Darcy), supported by Phyllis Newman, Ellen Hanley, Christopher Hewitt, and James Mitchell. The original production's lavish scenic design (the period was 1813) by Peter Larkin is particularly noteworthy.

Sir Angus Wilson would roll in his grave. Blonde,lame & 2008 flowing. Mrs. Norris?? Too contemporary...the historic flavor lost. Pity.

I agree will all comments above regarding the startling about-face in Fanny's entire character--definitely "Austen Lite." I can even see that the original, spiritless, mousy little Fanny Price would not work well in a COMPLEX adaptation of the novel (which this was not!). Accepting it for what it was, I enjoyed the show nevertheless, except for one thing that drove me crazy.

Although I didn't so much mind that Fanny was a streaky blonde AND seemed to have developed multiple personality disorder (at least she was amusing), every time she first appeared in each new scene, my mental cry was "Put your hair up! Put your hair up! You're FAR too old to be running around with your hair loose!" The revealed bosoms didn't bother me, except that they were equally revealed in the AM as in the PM--quite improper--couldn't MT's costuming folks come up with any decent morning dresses? But having "come out"--or at least, being out of the schoolroom, Fanny would NEVER have been allowed to wear her hair down, even at home, and even in this tomboy incarnation of her character. The fact that every other actress FOLLOWED this convention made Fanny's apparent disregard of it all the more perplexing. I know it's a small detail, but I found it disproportionately distracting.

Why can't Fanny Price be a blond? Charles Edmund Brock apparently thought the hair color suited her.

Again. Why. Not so awful as this series' Persuasion but that's as damning as faint praise gets.

& again - It's not like there aren't exemplars out there of what is possible.

The "revisionist" movie version of Mansfield Park (Frances O'Connor as Fanny 1999) is exactly the sort of interpretation that can be enjoyed as a distinct film experience without having read or liked the book. The revisionist label comes mostly from having incorporated bits from JA's own life and deducing a Bertram family connection to slavery - both of which delighted me.

The 1999 movie danced the lovely line between the genuine feeling of some characters and the arch amorality of others that makes Austen's ironic tone so brilliant and is so often either lost or overplayed in film. Embeth Davidtz's Mary Crawford is one of the best written and tastiest film embodiments of the amoral type in all of filmed Austen.

This isn't about money or time - this is about caring, respect and passion - but first and foremost, comprehension. Without that, well, you get this.

Could PBS at the very least have found a reviewer who has read the novel recently and who can spell "adaptation"? There is a great deal more to Jane Austen, particularly Mansfield Park, than "wit, social satire and a happy ending."

I have to HEARTILY second Elizabeth Matthew's complaints, and also point out that, unless you want to hackishly place ALL modern romantic comedies under the umbrella of "Austen adaptations" please keep You've Got Mail OFF your list. It's bad enough I have to confront it as a mediocre remake of one of my favorite movies (The Shop Around the Corner), don't make me despise it as a remake of Pride and Prejudice as well.

And please, dear God please, never write another Jane Austen influenced TECHNOLOGY GUIDE ever again.

I don't know why "people hate" Mansfield Park - it's my favorite of the Austen movies (though Clueless and Sense & Sensibility are close 2nd's and 3rd's!).

This adaptAtion was really jarring. I agree with what has been said above, but especially, that we never saw Portsmouth, and Fanny's birth family, was really an omission.

Let's see how the rest of this series goes....

I think that it is time to have more conversation about the Private Federal Reseve and the Rothchild's banking Empire.

I want to examine the influence that the Rothchilds bankers have played in European/American/South African politics and economics. How they have influenced Presidentials races and government policy and Wars and bringing Hitler into power and being responsbile for the State of Isreal and America entering into World War II.

I want to take a closer look at the Federal Reserve act of 1913 and how the IRS was birthed and how the constitution clearly states that only congress has the authority to coin money Article 1 Section 10 of the Constitution. They have given up this right to a secret group of Private bankers who have basically bankrupted this coutry.

Thomas Jefferson had a famous quote "first they hit us with inflation then deflation then we will become homeless on the land that our father conquered", JFK passed into lawExecutive Order No.11110 AMENDMENT OF EXECUTIVE ORDER NO. 10289 AS AMENDED, RELATING TO THE PERFORMANCE OF CERTAIN FUNCTIONS AFFECTING THE DEPARTMENT OF THE TREASURY.

MR. Kennedy's order gave the treasury the power "to issue silver certificates against any silver bullion, silver, or standard silver dollars in the treasury."

This meant that for every ounce of silver in the U.S Treasury's vault, the government could introduce new money into circulation.

In all, kennedy brought nearly $4.3 billion in U.S. notes into circulation.

With the stroke of a pen, Mr. Kennedy was on his was to putting the Federal Reserve Bank of New York out of business.

If enough of these silver certificates were to come into circulation they would have eliminated the demand for the Federal Reserve Notes.

This is because the silver certificates are backed by silver and the Federal Reserve notes are backed by anything but debt and the citizens ability on pay income taxes for interest payments. and LIncoln were against Central Banking and how Woodrow Wilson helped sign into law the act of 1913 that was never signed by the states required to put into law this act.

How this these topic has impacted America and the direction we are going and the impact on the dollars. And why for his honey moon the Jewish Rothchild banker spent the night in the WHITE HOUSE!

I'm a huge Jane Austen fan of both the books and their films, and I am enjoying these new adaptations.

Hi all - While I knew I'd rankle the purists, I can't take credit for the "You've Got Mail" inclusion of loose interpretations. That was courtesy of a research paper to which I mistakenly left out the link. That paper is located at: http://www.jasna.org/persuasions/printed/number24/solender.pdf. Hope everyone finds the rest of the series (and reviewers) a little more to their taste. ;-)

Diane

Seriously? I could not get pass the streaked blonde hair and the poufy lips. WTH was that, pray tell?

No Mrs. Norris? Sacrilege!

Will there ever be a version of "MANSFIELD PARK" in which Fanny Price and Edmund Bertram's hypocrisy is fully acknowledged, instead of swept under the table?

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