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Fun Friday–Mansfield Park on PBS

Friday, January 25, 2008


Before getting into the discussion of this week’s presentation, let me take a step back to last week’s and say, for the record, how much I absolutely adored the new version of Northanger Abbey. As I wrote last week, I believe NA will be the triumph of the Austen Series. Now, on to Mansfield Park . . .

Mansfield Park

I may be one of the few people in the world who enjoys the full experience of Jane Austen’s longest novel, Mansfield Park. There is only one section of it that I routinely skip when reading it, listening to the audiobook, or watching the 1983 BBC version starring Sylvestra Le Touzel—who, by the way, played Mrs. Allen in the new Northanger Abbey this past week—and that’s the part when Tom brings a friend home and, in Sir Thomas’s absence, they start rehearsing a play. But I’m pretty sure that part’s been cut out. I’m a little concerned that what took them 312 minutes to show in the ’83 version (which still left out some stuff from the book, but not much), has been cut down to 90 minutes for this new release.

Here’s the synopsis from the PBS/Masterpiece Classics site:

    “We all have our best guides within us, if only we would listen.”
    — Fanny Price in Mansfield Park

    Fanny Price (Billie Piper, Doctor Who, The Ruby in the Smoke) is plucked from poverty as a child and taken to live with relatives at stately Mansfield Park. Surrounded by entitled and vain cousins, Fanny forges a connection with one — Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson, Inspector Lynley Mysteries). Years later, two neighbors fresh from a life in high society descend on Mansfield Park, sparking a labyrinth of intrigue and affairs. Fanny finds herself being pursued, but not by the longstanding love of her life. Can Fanny listen to her own heart and wait for her true love to notice her?

I’m trying to stay positive about this adaptation of the novel—not my favorite of the six, but still one that I’ve enjoyed—but a few elements do concern me:
1. Billie Piper

Fanny Price

Maybe it’s because, with the exception of Gwyneth Paltrow in the theatrical release version of Emma (my least favorite of the six novels/stories), Austen’s heroines have almost exclusively been cast with brunette actresses, Billie Piper already doesn’t fit my mental image of Fanny Price. And there are two issues I have with this image: the costume, which looks like it’s about twenty years out of date; and her hair, which never would have been left unbound during that age (nor would it have been shoulder-length, nor would she have had bangs nor would she have obviously black eyebrows with blonde hair—okay, yes, I’m getting a little too critical).

2. Length which I’ve already mentioned.

3. The Ending. After reading the full synopsis at the PBS/Masterpiece site, I’m a little concerned that they’ve glossed over some of the important—the vitally important—events that occur near the ending of the novel . . . the most important of which is Fanny’s being sent back to Portsmouth after she refuses Henry’s first proposal. The synopsis says she is “left in solitude at Mansfield Park.” There is no way that will have the impact on the characters/story that her being sent away to Portsmouth has in the original story. Being sent away from Mansfield Park—and Edmund—and having to live in her family’s squalid quarters near the dockyard in Portsmouth, cut off from everyone she cares about, is the pivotal moment in the book when Fanny’s strength of character is revealed. Even though she desires nothing more than to get back to Mansfield Park, when Henry comes to Portsmouth and offers to rescue her, by way of renewing his proposal of marriage and an offer to take her back to the life/people she misses, she still refuses to lower her standards or compromise/give up her love for Edmund. So it’ll be interesting to see how taking this part out works.

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~

So what am I looking forward to in this version?

1. Script by Andrew Davies. Just click back to last week’s Fun Friday post about Northanger Abbey in case you’ve forgotten why fans of Austen’s books love Andrew Davies. Even though I do have my concerns over the changes to the story, I trust that he will still have done his uttermost to maintain the integrity of the themes and characters. UPDATE SUNDAY, JAN. 27: I was misinformed about Andrew Davies being the screenwriter for this adaptation. Apparently it’s Maggie Wadey, and the only other book-to-screen adaptation of hers I’ve seen was The Buccaneers, which may go a long way in explaining what may or may not have been cut out of this story.

2. The Men. I’ve never been shy about admitting that I have a thing for British actors. And the casting director of this production seems to have outdone herself:

Edmund Bertram

Blake Ritson is just on that line between stodgy and good looking, which is perfect for the role of Edmund.

Tom Bertram

Though Ruth and I disagreed about the new version of Persuasion, I know she’ll completely agree with me in saying that any movie with James D’Arcy in it has at least one redeeming quality!

Henry Crawford

I haven’t seen Joseph Beattie in anything before, but just from this picture, he looks like he fits the role of Henry Crawford perfectly.

3. The Bertram Sisters. Maria and Julia are secondary characters in the book, but their actions have great impact on the unfolding of Fanny’s story. And here, the casting director seems to have done an excellent job as well:

Maria Bertram-Rushworth

My main exposure to Michelle Ryan was in her role as Katherine in the BBC miniseries Jekyll, but the majority of U.S. viewers may know her better as the latest incarnation of The Bionic Woman. She has just the right combination of beauty and haughtiness needed for the role of the condescending and ill-fated Maria.

Julia Bertram

I can’t recall having seen Catherine Steadman in anything before, but she is very well cast as Maria’s younger sister who has always lived in her more lively, more beautiful older sister’s shadow—especially when it comes to men. My only fear is that her character has drawn the short-straw in this adaptation, and she will not be shown to actually be the “good” daughter—as well as have a happy romance eventually sanctioned by her parents.

Links of Interest
Interview with screenwriter Andrew Davies on NPR
Listing on
Main page at PBS’s Masterpiece Classics site
Wikipedia Article on Mansfield Park
Full Text of Mansfield Park on Bibliomania

For more information on Jane Austen and all of her works:
The Jane Austen Society of North America
The Republic of Pemberley

  1. Friday, January 25, 2008 11:03 am


    Last week’s “Northanger Abbey” has really given me a fresh infusion of faith in Andrew Davies. I am hoping for equally enjoyable results this weekend.

    Have you watched Billie Piper in the Shakespeare Retold “Much Ado”? Her hair had bleached blonde highlights and her eyebrows were STILL nearly black. I mean I tend to like her and I applaude her for bucking the establishment and all that as regards to looks but it’s still a bit jarring. 😛

    Blake Ritson appears to have very interesting bone structure. 😉 He looks like something of a tortured soul in that picture. Can’t wait to see his portrayal of Edmund!


  2. lori permalink
    Friday, January 25, 2008 1:13 pm

    Joseph Beattie is in Hex (shown on BBC America) and he plays a sort of antichrist figure spawned from a fallen angel and a witch. Ha! I think he will be fabulous as Henry Crawford.

    I’m feeling a little wary of Billie Piper’s casting as well, but maybe she’ll pull it off.


  3. Friday, January 25, 2008 2:00 pm

    When is it on? I need to know, I missed last week!!!


  4. Friday, January 25, 2008 3:25 pm

    PBS on Sunday night . . . but check your “local listings” for the time, because it may be different in different time zones.


  5. Friday, January 25, 2008 5:06 pm

    Kaye, I just watched Northanger Abbey last night and enjoyed it, although at the end I did kinda feel like there could have been more to the story in Jane’s book. I’ll have to read it now.

    Mansfield Park looks good. Can’t wait to see it!


  6. Sunday, January 27, 2008 11:56 am

    While I think most people who are not intimately acquainted with Mansfield Park will like this film, those of us who have read the novel several times will find it annoying. In this film adaptation, Mrs. Norris has been turned into a merely irritating and spiteful person, and not the mean, cruel and spiteful character she really is. Portsmouth has been cut out; the Crawford siblings roam around Mansfield Park with no seeming place to go; and Lady Bertram leaves her languer behind on the sofa, and suddenly becomes actively involved in Fanny’s welfare.

    I liked Northanger Abbey. But Mansfield Park falls woefully short of the mark.


  7. Gayle permalink
    Monday, January 28, 2008 5:54 am

    Lady Bertram perks up after Mrs. Norris is sent packing. I believe Mrs. Norris had been pushing drugs on Lady Bertram to keep her sedated all those years.


  8. Tuesday, January 29, 2008 5:21 am

    One of my biggest problems with adaptations of Mansfield Park is that they tend to leave out the part about Fanny going to Portsmouth. I think there was another adaption that did that, and it annoyed me to no end.

    I absolutely love Mansfield Park and have read it several times or listened to the audiobook. That’s why I hate when such a major event is taken out of it for an adaptation. I enjoyed the old BBC miniseries version because the actress playing Mrs. Norris was fabulous, and I really liked the actress who played Lady Bertram, too. (Did you notice that the actor who played Edmund was in the Masterpiece version of Persuasion as Mr. Musgrove? So nice to see him again.)

    Anyway, when I read that they took out Portsmouth, it plummeted my hopes in this one. I had the hardest time sitting through the entire movie of Persuasion on Masterpiece, and I have a feeling I’ll be feeling the same way with Mansfield Park (it’s on my Tivo).

    BTW, I had a friend in college who was naturally very blonde and naturally had very dark eyebrows–some people thought she used an eyebrow pencil, but she didn’t. So it is possible Billie Piper is the same way.




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