Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d
7:25 pm EDT — I am about to pop the DVD of MP99 into the player and am filled with dread. I saw this film in November of 1999 on a big screen at the Directors’ Guild in New York City before it was released to the general public. I went with 3 friends, all of whom are devout Janeites. A handful of people walked out during the film. More walked out during the closing credits. But we stayed because the writer/director, Patricia Rozema, was going to be there in person to talk about the film and to take questions from the audience. I only remember one thing about that Q&A: Patricia Rozema said point blank that she didn’t like Mansfield Park, she didn’t like Fanny Price and she thought she could do better.
7:31 pm EDT — I have just watched two “featurettes” about MP99. One was the theatrical trailer, and the other had brief comments from the cast about the making of the film. In the “making of,” Patricia Rozema states that she liked the book. In the trailer, the announcer refers to Fanny as a “spirited heroine.” The trailer shows scenes that I don’t remember and that I wish could have remained forgotten. For example, I saw a scene where Edmund and Fanny are in a carriage and Edmund rests his head on Fanny’s bosom while asleep. I saw a scene where Fanny and Susan are talking and Fanny describes Henry Crawford as a rake and Susan becomes, shall we say, “interested.” I saw that the Prices live in filthy, disgusting squalor — they were not rich, but they weren’t dirt poor either.
Once again, I’m not impressed by this film. But I have to watch it. Here is my 1999 review from IMDb; I have not read it so it won’t influence me tonight, but I know I slammed the film, and I wonder if I’ll have any cause to change the review. IMDb also tells us that the film’s tagline is “Jane Austen’s Wicked Comedy.” I found quite a bit to laugh about in Mansfield Park, but I would never even consider calling it a “comedy,” much less a “wicked” one. *sigh* We’ll see.
8:00 pm EDT — I am 10 minutes+ into the film and am already fuming. Fanny sees a slave ship off the coast. Fanny overhears the conversation between Mrs. Norris and Sir Thomas about how Fanny is to be treated; she overhears the conversation between Sir Thomas and his daughters about how Fanny is inferior to them. We hear Mrs. Norris tell her that she is to be her aunt’s “assistant.” We see a painting supposedly done by Tom that looks like something a 20th century artist would have painted. We see Fanny crying in her room, and in voiceover, composes a letter to Susan (yes, Susan). So far, not good.
8:30 pm EDT — It’s even worse than I’d remembered. Another 10 or so minutes have gone by, and we’ve seen Fanny write Jane Austen’s Juvenilia and be scolded by Sir Thomas for being too rambunctious; we’ve learned that the reason Sir Thomas had to leave for the West Indies was because the abolitionists were making noise; we’ve seen Lady Bertram take laudanum; and we’ve seen that Mansfield Park has no furniture. OK, it has some. But not much. To say that it is sparsely furnished is not an exaggeration.
8:51 pm EDT — Lady Bertram takes more laudanum. Tom brings the Hon. Mr. Yates to Mansfield Park. Mary Crawford plays billiards, smokes and asks the men whom she will be making love to in the play (yes, it’s in the book, but she says the line with a decidedly modern tone — the phrase “make love” did not mean then what it does now). Mary tries to seduce Edmund through Fanny while she and Fanny rehearse the play. Sir Thomas leers at Fanny when he gets home from Antigua. Tom is a drunk who burps a lot and who disapproves of slavery. Sir Thomas announces the ball in honor of Fanny even before Maria is married. Fanny is so upset at the thought of a ball in her honor given by a slaveowner that she storms out of the room, saddles her own horse and goes for a ride. At night. In the pouring rain.
9:16 pm EDT — Maria tells her father she doesn’t like Rushworth but does like his money and wants to marry him right away. Fanny describes the wedding in a letter to Susan wherein she breaks the 4th wall again to talk to us. Fanny gets wet running an errand for Mrs. Norris and Mary tries to undress her. There, at the Rectory, Fanny breaks the news to Mary that Edmund is shortly to take orders, and he overhears the conversation. This conversation takes place at the Rectory because we never get to see the trip to Sotherton. Fanny dances with Henry at the ball, but I miss the scene with the cross or the chains. Of course there’s no such scene, because William doesn’t exist. My bad.
I didn’t think it could get worse, but it does.
9:31 pm EDT — Fanny turns down Henry’s proposal of marriage, and Sir Thomas berates her for what appears to be several days. He uses the trip to Portsmouth as a threat and tells her IN PUBLIC that maybe the deprivations of Portsmouth will make her appreciate the luxuries of Mansfield Park. I liked the book’s Sir Thomas. He’s flawed, but he is a decent man who changes over time and becomes a better person and a better parent. I don’t like this one. He’s a jerk and a creep and he makes my skin crawl.
9:55 pm EDT — Fanny is in Portsmouth and the house is a pigsty. Bugs and creepy-crawlies roam the house. Fanny tells Susan that Aunt Bertram is an opium addict. Fanny is awakened one morning by a young man who is delivering fireworks and doves to her house. Afterwards, at church, Henry appears and walks her home. He tells her that he knows she’s in love with Edmund but that Edmund will marry Mary. Mrs. Price tells Fanny there is no shame in wealth and that she married for love. Fanny tells Henry “a woman’s poverty is a slavery more harsh than a man’s.” Fanny agrees to marry Henry, they snog in public and she giggles.
This is most certainly NOT the same story I finished reading barely a week ago. How much more can I take?
10:26 pm EDT— Fanny wakes up the next morning and tells Henry (who tries to waltz with her in her parents’ house) that she’s changed her mind. He gets angry and storms off. Shortly after, Edmund arrives to take Fanny back to Mansfield because Tom was left for dead in London and the family need her. Fanny and Edmund leave Portsmouth, but Susan stays behind. As the carriage pulls away, Fanny tells Susan “Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint.” This is not a line from Mansfield Park. It is a line from Jane Austen’s Love and Freindship, written when she was a teenager. Then, during the ride back to Mansfield, Edmund falls asleep and rests his head on Fanny’s bosom.
Henry, Mary and Maria are all at Mansfield Park to be with the family while Tom is ill, and Henry tells Maria that Fanny has rejected him.
Nurse Fanny tends to Tom and finds a sketchbook where he has recorded all the abuse of his father’s slaves down in Antigua, including one drawing of Sir Thomas being “serviced” by a female slave. Sir Thomas walks in on Fanny while she is looking at the drawings. I am now so angry I could spit. Yes, the ‘real’ Sir Thomas would have owned slaves, but he was not vicious or violent. The ‘real’ Sir Thomas was feared, but also respected and loved. This Sir Thomas is inherently unlikable and has no redeeming features whatsoever.
Fanny is asleep up in her attic room and she hears a noise downstairs that she thinks is Tom. Despite the fact that she’s lived in that house for almost 10 years, she opens Maria’s bedroom door instead of Tom’s and sees Maria in flagrente delicto with Henry. She then manages to find Tom’s room. Edmund senses something is wrong (what a smart guy!) and sees Henry pulling on his trousers. After Maria whines about what an idiot Rushworth is, Edmund goes back to his post in Tom’s room and comforts Fanny. He tries to kiss her on the lips but looks away and then apologizes.
Is this Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park or some soap opera that happens to have the same name? It’s getting harder and harder to tell.
10:48 pm EDT — At long last, it’s over. Mrs. Norris sees the item in the paper about Maria running off with Henry and they use names instead of initials. Mary is at the house when the news is discovered and is very condescending to Sir Thomas — she says “this is 1806, after all!” and tells him what he should do for Maria and Henry to be re-established in society. She assumes that she and Edmund will be married, but Edmund tells her off in front of his family.
Fanny then tells us in a voiceover what will happen next. She says that Henry and Mary will find partners whose “modern sensibilities” equal theirs. Julia does not run off with Yates. Somehow, it’s decided that Susan will live at Mansfield Park.
10:52 pm EDT — It’s even worse than I’d remembered. It doesn’t even work for me as a movie. I noticed the Netflix envelope says: “In this period drama loosely based on Jane Austen’s most autobiographical novel…” Yes, it is indeed a “loose” adaptation, but where do they get the idea that this is Austen’s “most autobiographical novel?” Awful. Awful. Awful. I can’t wait to get it out of my house.
I want these hours of my life back. In the meantime, I need a drink.