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Mansfield Park (1999)
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Rozema's progressive interpretation of Jane Austen's novel finds Fanny Price (O'Connor) as a poor relation who at the age of 12 is "rescued" to begin a life in Mansfield Park, the estate of her aunt's husband. Fanny's beauty and bold intelligence become apparent as she attracts suitors and becomes troubled by the class system and the fact that slavery was the source of much of the family's wealth.
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Well, as an adaptaion, the film only merits two at best. But taken by itself and judged as a movie, I have to admit it's quite entertaining. While not the Fanny of the book, as played by Frances O'Conner the Fanny of the film is extremely likable. Embeth Davidtz and the very appealing Alessandro Nivola have a lot of fun with their characters; Nivola in particular capturing the mixture of sleaziness and vulnerablity that makes the womanizing Henry Crawford ever so slightly attractive. The visuals are sumptuous, and the dialogue is laced with Austen's unique wit, much of it not in the novel. My only real problems with the film are with the slavery subplot (icky and distracting) and Johnny Lee Miller as Fanny's true love. Changing the chracters personalities also changes their motivations, and the actions of Edward, while making sense in the book, are not logical in the film. As a result, Miller's Edward comes off as wimpy and indecisive and detracts from the story.
Other than these two quibbles, I quite like this little movie. You are more likely to enjoy it, I think, if you aren't comparing it to the novel the entire time, as it really has very little to do with Austen's story. Taken as a straight period film, though, "Mansfield Park" is an enjoyable way to spend a rainy afternoon.
Not only is O'Connor's characterization not Austen's Fanny Price, this movie is not Austen's "Mansfield Park". Patricia Rozema took some appalling liberties with Austen's book; here we have Lady Bertram as an opium addict, which is supposed to explain her perpetual indolence; Sir Thomas is Simon Legree redux, and Edmund, who at least had some personality in the BBC version, albeit a moralizing, sanctimonious snob, is little more than a cypher in this film. And Mary Crawford, depicted by Austen as a kind, generous, sympathetic character, is shown here as nothing more than a conniving little gold-digger.
Austen tiptoed around the fact that the Bertram family's fortune came from the blood and toil of the slaves on the family's plantation in Antigua; Rozema shoves it right in the viewer's face with graphic images of Sir Thomas raping and abusing the hapless slaves. Austen was well aware that the slave trade was an abomination, but she didn't go into it in her book, and it doesn't belong in any movie that purports to be based on the book.
Taken on its own, the film is a fairly enjoyable period piece, and Frances O'Connor is a winning heroine; but no way in the world does this movie deserve the title of "Mansfield Park".
The 1983 BBC version with Sylvestra Le Touzel and Nicholas Farrell as Fanny and Edmund is much more in keeping with the original tone of Jane's story. It's also more "family friendly"-You won't have to have your children leave the room to watch it as you do this version.
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