Part III: Mansfield Park, cont’d.

I just finished watching MP07, starring Billie Piper as Fanny, Blake Ritson as Edmund and Jemma Redgrave as Lady Bertram.  I saw it shortly after it first aired in the UK, and my personal copy happens to be a Region 2 disc.  But, since my multi-region players are still in storage, I had to rent the disc from Netflix.  And, since we all know that PBS slices and dices the adaptations they show, the version I watched is a victim of such “editing.”  Unfortunately, I don’t remember enough about the film to tell you what is missing from the original. The envelope the disc came in said that this film is 90 minutes long — that’s way too short to be able to deal adequately with the complexities of this novel.  The region 2 version is 120 minutes long (per Amazon.co.uk) and, when I first saw that version, I remember thinking even that is too short.  This book deserves a better, more thorough treatment.

There are people who will tell you that they dislike this adaptation more than MP99.  I beg to differ.  I dislike MP99 intensely.  Enough that I almost didn’t include it in the Odyssey.  As for this film, well, I don’t think this one is dreadful; it’s just not very good.  We have another feisty Fanny and another Sir Thomas who isn’t as good a man as Austen’s.  We have a Lady Bertram who is too aware of what’s going on.  I know I said I think that Austen’s Lady Bertram knows more than she lets on, but Jemma Redgrave’s Lady Bertram is not indolent enough.  And Mrs. Norris isn’t enough of a bully.

While watching it, I took notes to keep track of my thoughts, and it hit me that the filmmakers seemed to have trouble with Austen’s characters the way she wrote them.  Let me explain.  One minute, Fanny will be quiet and reserved, and then the next, she’ll be running around the house, playing with Pug.  Or we’ll see Lady Bertram falling asleep in the drawing room in the middle of the day, and then all of a sudden, she’s paying very close attention to what’s going on around her.  Or we’ll see Sir Thomas soften up one minute, and then the next he’s gruff again.  Mrs. Norris will say something awful, and then she’ll shut up and mind her own business.  It’s like being at a tennis match with all that backing-and-forthing going on.

While it’s still closer to the book than MP99 is, there’s still a lot that’s different, and not all of it is good.  For example, Maria and Rushworth are engaged before Sir Thomas leaves for Antigua, and there’s no trip to Sotherton.  Maria and Edmund have their discussion about his becoming a clergyman almost immediately after their first meeting.  Tom never goes to Antigua.  There are no Grants – Mary and Henry appear to live in a “cottage” by themselves.  The Admiral is their step-father, not their uncle.  There is no Mr. Yates, so the play is all Tom’s idea and Julia remains unmarried at the end.  There is no ball for Fanny; she gets a picnic for her birthday instead.  There’s still dancing, but it’s on the lawn, not in a ballroom (as an aside, some of the music sounds identical to the Meryton Assembly scene in P&P05).  We don’t get Sir Thomas realizing that Fanny doesn’t have a fire in her room.  There’s no trip to Portsmouth either.  Instead, to punish Fanny for not marrying Henry, Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris all leave to go visit Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris’ mother for three weeks.  Sir Thomas gets a letter about Maria and Henry, and Mary comes to Mansfield Park to talk about the situation.  She tells Fanny in person that she wishes Tom would die.

What I did like is that they show Fanny getting the cross from William, and we do see that both Edmund and Mary have given her a chain for the cross (unfortunately, however, we don’t actually see Mary giving it to her, and there’s nothing about Henry’s role in the gift or about Henry’s necklace not fitting).  I also like that they have the scene where Sir Thomas offers Maria a chance to get out of the marriage.  But I just loved that, near the end, when Mrs. Norris tries to blame Fanny for the Henry/Maria situation, Sir Thomas tells her she’s free to leave Mansfield Park and go be with Maria.  The expression on her face is priceless!

So, on the whole, I’ll just say that it’s a below-average adaptation.  It’s not terrible, but it’s far enough off the mark that it’s not in the neighborhood of good either.  It’s a shame too, because the cast has such potential.  If they’d had better material to work with, this could have been more enjoyable.

Technically, we’re done with Mansfield Park, but I’m going to take a bit of a detour before moving on to Emma.  In 1990, Whit Stillman wrote and directed a film called Metropolitan that some Janeites (including yours truly) think is a modernization of Mansfield Park.  Lots of people disagree with me, but I’ll certainly do my best to change their minds when I write about it later this week.

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