I’ve wracked my brains trying to come up with kind things to say about this 2007 production of Mansfield Park. ‘Nice mansion.’ ‘Pretty garden.’ ‘Glad they shot this film in England.’ ‘Where can I get a red Jezebel parasol like Mary Crawford’s?’ ‘Cute pug.’ ‘Great cleavage.’
On a superficial level this is an enjoyable film, but nothing substantive happens. Every element that makes this powerful Jane Austen novel thought provoking and crackle with tension has been squeezed out of this 90-minute adaptation. The viewer is merely left with – pulp.
I watched this movie several times, hoping to get some sense of why director Iain McDonald and writer Maggie Wadey felt they needed to dumb down the plot. Mrs. Norris is now a merely irritating figure; the Bertram sisters are almost non-existent after Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth; there is no return visit to Portsmouth, in fact there is no Portsmouth at all; the Crawford siblings don’t seem to live any where; and Fanny has morphed into a sweet but stubborn, though slovenly chit who likes to play badminton and ride horses with her first cousin. Oh, and she’s wildly in love with him. One wonders why the tug of war between a young heroine who stands up for her values and moral convictions against those who are in control of her life has been reduced to a few verbal skirmishes and some minor mental anguishes.
I admit this is my least favorite Jane Austen novel, though that is by a small degree. Edmund Bertram comes across as a prig; and Fanny is much too staid and timid for my tastes. She is so morally upright that I would feel quite uncomfortable in her presence and not know precisely what to say. Whereas I suspect I could have a delightful and scintillating conversation with Lizzie Bennet, my favorite Austen heroine, or Mary Crawford, who always excited my interest more than Fanny. Not that Lizzie isn’t moral, but she does seem more approachable to me.
But I digress. Billie Piper is as far from my image of Fanny as any actress could get. Looking too modern, with features that are this side of tough, Billie is woefully miscast. I understand she chose to play Fanny, and I can imagine why. Going against type must be an attractive proposition for an actress. If she pulls off such a challenge, awards are in her future. But Billie didn’t pull this role off, and aside from her sweet, insipid version of Fanny (which is so incongruent with her looks), I found her disheveled hairdo and in-your-face cleavage distracting and not at all reminiscent of a proper Regency Miss.
The other actors and actresses were fine, especially Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram and Haley Atwell as Mary Crawford, and they did what pitifully little they could with the material they were given.
The film’s biggest mistake was to give Mrs. Norris (Maggie O’Neil) so little airtime and to turn her into a vaguely annoying character. Mrs. Norris is verbally abusive and she plays a significant role in Fanny’s psychological development. The fact that Fanny was able to withstand the hateful words and actions of this dark and oppressive character and to stick to the moral high ground despite all the pressures placed on her is a crucial element of Fanny’s make up. Yet this subtext was almost completely swept under the rug. A knowledgeable Jane fan had to search for it in this production, and someone who has never read Mansfield Park would not even be aware of it after viewing the film.
Towards the end of the film, Edmund’s and Fanny’s fun and light proposal scene is sure to win the hearts of many viewers. (Click on video below.) I must admit the scene is cute, but I felt manipulated. I snorted with derision upon seeing Lady Bertram (Jemma Redgrave) sitting at the breakfast table (would she have bothered to get out of bed so early?), aware enough to observe the subtle looks exchanged between Fanny and Edmund, and actively engaged as a matchmaker.
If I were to give my Regency fan rating to this adaptation of Mansfield Park, I’d give it ¼ fan. After all, the pug, who remains uncredited, was adorable and eminently worth watching. For other reviews on Mansfield Park, click on PBS’s Remotely Connected My review of Northanger Abbey sits here; and click here for my review on Persuasion.
For other (older) reviews of the movie, click on the links below:
Read my other post about Mansfield Park here: Mansfield Park, Mary Crawford’s Downfall in Edmund’s Eyes.
Also click here for a short piece on the two actors who played Fanny and Edmund in the 1983 version of Mansfield Park.