Mansfield Park

"Very Good"

Mansfield Park Review


What is it about Jane Austen? This box-office stalwart has inspired five major film adaptations in the '90s (six counting the excellent BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice in 1995).

I think I know what Austen's secret is: Her books are recent, but not modern. Her central characters have good manners and triumph over bad marriages or economic straits, instead of succumbing to their own vices or whining too much about their problems.

Mansfield Park is the last of Austen's major novels to be filmed recently, and I think it is usually considered Austen's weakest novel, though not too weak for cynical filmmakers to try to squeeze a bit more cash out of the writer's legacy.

Writer-director Patricia Rozema's cynicism comes out in other ways in this film, too. She transforms Austen's diffident, quiet heroine Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) into a sassy, '90s, politically-aware attitude girl who shows up the fatuousness of most of the other characters. Only Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller), Fanny's true friend and ultimate love interest, meets her approval.

Worse, Rozema has embellished the tale with a subplot about the moral evisceration of Fanny's adopted family, the Bertrams, caused by the family's ties to slavery (based on a few brief references in the novel to family business in the West Indies).

The movie features one of the best casts in the Austen movie series: O'Connor is very good, Miller just as good, and Harold Pinter (he can act, too) does well in the revised, over-politicized role of Sir Thomas Bertram. Rozema's direction gives the polite, overwritten novel some needed sensuality.

Unfortunately, Rozema has also refracted the novel through a modern, unsubtle, feminist bias. The result is still better than the average '90s politically-correct sermonette, but definitely not a portal into a 19th-century brain (Being Jane Austen it isn't).

Austen's book is a study on virtues like "constancy," an un-modern concept which does not mean the same thing as monogamy, nor does it mean being "true to oneself," Thelma And Louise style. It means believing in certain moral values and being true to them even though others' conduct is not always good or bad. Some of this subtlety comes through in the film, but most of the characters are either too good (i.e. Fanny) or too bad (everyone else, especially Sir Thomas) to be realistic studies. The subplot about slavery is especially jarring, because it introduces something morally unambiguous into a story which is about tolerating shades of moral ambiguity.

The best dialogue in the film is in Austen's spirit, such as Fanny's observation that "Life is but a succession of busy nothings" or Edmund's wish for a "life of compassion and contemplation" (as a clergyman). But too much of the dialogue is the kind of blunt raving that would have made 19th-century families as dysfunctional as today's, except that they customarily kept it to themselves.

Many of Rozema's revisionist additions ring false, like making Fanny an aspiring writer (even if there were autobiographical elements in the original novel, I doubt that Jane Austen was the smartass that Fanny is portrayed as here) or having a character say things like "this is 1806, for Heaven's sake."

It was supposed to be 1806, but Mansfield Park the movie has a little too much 1999 in it --- naïve social criticism, bathos, and vulgarity. And judging from the popularity of Jane Austen adaptations, a lot of moviegoers are tired of movies that remind them of the present.

Still, they'll probably take any period drama they can get...

Austentatious.



Mansfield Park

Facts and Figures

Run time: 112 mins

In Theaters: Friday 19th November 1999

Distributed by: Miramax

Production compaines: HAL Films, BBC Films

Reviews

Contactmusic.com: 3.5 / 5

Rotten Tomatoes: 76%
Fresh: 52 Rotten: 16

IMDB: 7.1 / 10

Cast & Crew

Director:

Producer:

Starring: as Mrs. Price/Lady Bertram, as Tom Bertram, as Mrs. Norris, as Sir Thomas Bertram, Victoria Hamilton as Maria Bertram Rushworth, as Mr. Rushworth, as Julia Bertram, as Mary Crawford, as Mr. Henry Crawford, as Susan "Susie" Price, as Edmund Bertram, as Fanny Price

Contactmusic


Links



Advertisement

New Movies

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

Swallows and Amazons Movie Review

After a number of films, TV series and stage adaptations, Arthur Ransome's beloved 1930 novel...

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

David Brent: Life on the Road Movie Review

The original BBC sitcom The Office ran for 14 episodes from 2001 to 2003, and...

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

The Childhood of a Leader Movie Review

Bold and intelligent, this dark drama is a challenging portrait of the making of an...

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

Pete's Dragon Movie Review

This hugely enjoyable adventure is a loose remake of the 1977 Disney hit that blended...

The Shallows Movie Review

The Shallows Movie Review

With a simple premise and plenty of visual style, Spanish filmmaker Jaume Collet-Serra (Unknown) takes...

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates Movie Review

Watching this gross-out comedy, it's clear that the gifted cast and crew had a great...

Nerve Movie Review

Nerve Movie Review

With a premise that feels almost eerily current, this stylish thriller revolves around a phone...

Advertisement
The Carer Movie Review

The Carer Movie Review

Brian Cox gets the role of a lifetime in this warm comedy about living life...

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Born to Be Blue Movie Review

Writer-director Robert Budreau takes a stylised approach to this biopic of the legendary jazz artist...

Jason Bourne Movie Review

Jason Bourne Movie Review

It's been nine years since Matt Damon and Paul Greengrass collaborated on The Bourne Ultimatum,...

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

The Commune [Kollektivet] Movie Review

Veteran Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg (Festen, The Hunt) returns to a smaller homegrown story after...

The BFG Movie Review

The BFG Movie Review

For his adaptation of the Roald Dahl classic, Steven Spielberg reunited with screenwriter Melissa Mathison,...

Finding Dory Movie Review

Finding Dory Movie Review

It's been 13 years since the release of the Disney/Pixar hit Finding Nemo, and filmmaker...

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

Star Trek Beyond Movie Review

This is where the Star Trek franchise officially shifts from thoughtful drama into thunderous action....

Advertisement
Artists
Actors
    Filmmakers
      Artists
      Bands
        Musicians
          Artists
          Celebrities
             
              Artists
              Interviews
                musicians & bands in the news
                  actors & filmmakers in the news
                    celebrities in the news

                      Go Back in Time using our News archive to see what happened on a particular day in the past.