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Mansfield Park–My Reaction

Sunday, January 27, 2008

To be blunt, I hated this adaptation. I may actually like this less than the new version of Persuasion, and most of it has to do with the grossly miscast Billie Piper. All I could focus on while watching it was her buck-teeth, her heaving bosom, and her hair that was not only not styled appropriately for whatever period they were trying to invoke but NEEDED TO BE BRUSHED FOR THE ENTIRE MOVIE! (Speaking of hair, Blake Ritson’s hair was strangely plastered to his head in every scene, almost as if they wanted to make sure that each spike lay on his forehead in the exact same place for every scene he was in.)

I corrected this in Friday’s post, but many of you may not have seen it. This adaptation was not written by Andrew Davies as I originally stated, but by Maggie Wadey, who wrote the screen adaptation for The Buccaneers.

The Fanny Price in this adaptation in this movie has absolutely nothing to do with the character Jane Austen created. Fanny was a shy, retiring girl who grew up being emotionally/verbally abused by her aunt Mrs. Norris, and yet persevered under it to become a kind, gentle, humble girl who always put others above herself and was mortified whenever anyone wanted to do anything nice for her. And she would never have run around pellmell around Mansfield Park like a hoyden. Maria and Julia did that, but never Fanny. (What is it in the new adaptations that they want the heroines sprinting around all over the place?)

As far as the time period, this book was written between 1811–1813, during the height of the Empire style—when pretty much all unmarried women wore were high-waisted, white gowns. Actual images of dresses from the time during which this book was written:


In the text of Mansfield Park, Jane wrote that Fanny receives a new white gown to wear to Maria’s wedding. In this film, not only is she wearing brown, but she’s wearing a day/workdress (which we only see as she goes tearing across the courtyard as her cousin is taking her leave):

“Now I must look at you, Fanny,” said Edmund, with the kind smile of an affectionate brother, “and tell you how I like you; and as well as I can judge by this light, you look very nicely indeed. What have you got on?”

“The new dress that my uncle was so good as to give me on my cousin’s marriage. I hope it is not too fine; but I thought I ought to wear it as soon as I could, and that I might not have such another opportunity all the winter. I hope you do not think me too fine.”

“A woman can never be too fine while she is all in white. . . .”

And I have a minor quibble about William’s showing up in uniform too (only because I made the point of trying to follow this in Ransome’s Honor):

William had obtained a ten days’ leave of absence, to be given to Northamptonshire, and was coming, the happiest of lieutenants, because the latest made, to shew his happiness and describe his uniform.

He came; and he would have been delighted to shew his uniform there too, had not cruel custom prohibited its appearance except on duty. So the uniform remained at Portsmouth. . . .

I’d already read on Ms. Place’s Jane Austen’s World Blog that Mrs. Norris’s character has basically been almost erased from existence in this adaptation. All I can say is that there’s a reason why J.K. Rowling named Filch’s cat “Mrs. Norris.”

And don’t get me started on how vulgar the waltz was considered when this book was written!

Given that Maggie Wadey did the screenplay for The Buccaneers, I’m really surprised at how much they downplayed Maria and Henry’s affair, since it really does have a big emotional impact on the story.

And I was right—taking Fanny’s exile to Portsmouth out of the story basically ripped the soul out of it. Of course, it was already braindead before it got to that point, so the loss of Portsmouth was just unplugging the life-support.

Here’s part of the Boston Globe‘s Matthew Gilbert’s take on it:

Written by Maggie Wadey and directed by Iain B. MacDonald, the PBS adaptation breezes along regardless of the subtle manners indigenous to Austen’s world or the intense reserve that marked so many of Austen’s women. All the conflicts and tensions are EZ-to-read – the Crawfords, for example, who are too clearly undesirable, and Edmund’s older brother, who is rarely seen without a wine glass in his hand.

Piper’s Fanny is little more than a stubborn Cinderella who always gets left at home. There’s nothing timid or intelligent about her. A nature child with flowing locks, she’s even a little bit flirty. And Fanny is never sent back to her poor family in the movie, so her economic vulnerabilities – such an important element in Austen’s novels – are left vague and unexplored. Meanwhile, Ritson’s Edmund, with his pointed nose and rock-star haircut, looks something like a young Rod Stewart.

  1. Sunday, January 27, 2008 10:46 pm

    Excellent review. Your outrage is justified. This is my prediction, however: about 50% of those who visit my popular culture Jane Austen blog, Jane Austen Today, will vote that they LOVE this production.

    PBS was smart to put Northanger Abbey second in the lineup. Had they followed up Persuasion with Mansfield Park, the JA fans would have left in droves.


  2. bridgett permalink
    Sunday, January 27, 2008 10:53 pm

    Yep. This was a crappy adaptation — it was not very Austen, though if I hadn’t been familiar with the book, would I have…no, who am I kidding, I would have thought the emplotment rushed and rickety, the characters too obvious. I liked Billie Piper in Dr. Who, liked her less in Ruby and the Smoke, thought she was so completely NOT Fanny in this. If you hadn’t read the book, you’d think that the only obnoxious thing about Mrs. Norris was her pug. They transposed the white gown to the picnic scene. Yes, the waltz…the waltz…not in England, then, danced by a minister and his pious bride…gah.


  3. Monday, January 28, 2008 9:01 am

    Argh, I don’t know enough to note the inconsistencies, BUT…I did watch it and wasn’t impressed whatsoever. Here’s what I noticed from an uninformed point of view: the quick skips in time made it seem a bit out of joint. I did notice the buck teeth, but figured they were about the size of mine 🙂 so I let that go, LOL! Also, her hair really bugged me, and I the way she was running amok made Fanny seem quite childish and unlikeable. I didn’t figure that to be a true Austen heroine.


  4. Monday, January 28, 2008 11:04 am

    I have never read Mansfield Park (ducking) and I was looking forward to seeing the movie first without knowing anything about the story. I really didn’t care for it! The hair bothered me, the actors bothered me (except Jemma Redgrave who stole the show in my mind), the singular setting bothered me, the cameraman bothered me!!! Can you recommend a better version? I am going to read the novel just to see how much better Jane Austen is than Maggie Wadey. Thanks!


  5. Monday, January 28, 2008 11:06 am

    BTW… I missed Northanger Abbey but agree with you about Persuasion and I also watch the better version to purge my mind right after it was over.


  6. Monday, January 28, 2008 11:17 am

    Matilda, I’d recommend both the 1999 theatrical release and the 1983 BBC miniseries of Mansfield Park over this one. The ’99 version takes several liberties with the story, but it’s more of a romantic comedy. The BBC miniseries stays much truer to the book. Many people find it very dry, but I like it because of its authenticity to to the original story.


  7. Monday, January 28, 2008 2:08 pm

    Excellent review and I agree. They have taken all the grace out of Fanny and turned her into a sloppy simpleton. Although Northanger Abbey has been so far the best of the three, I am becoming amazed at the failure to get these stories right.


  8. Monday, January 28, 2008 5:59 pm

    This is the first adaptation I couldn’t stay awake through. I did surface at the end to realize they were doing the waltz, sat up in surprise and said to my husband, “Wait a–are they?–do you have any idea how scandalous that would have been then???” and shuffled off to bed muttering to myself. Oh well. Let’s hope for better next time. I agree completely about the miscasting of Fannie. I kept wanting to shove a cap down over that crazy hair. 🙂



  9. Monday, January 28, 2008 10:24 pm

    Excellent points. Definitely a DISTANT third to Northanger Abbey and Persuasion (in that order, lol). I finally posted:


  10. Tuesday, January 29, 2008 8:19 am

    You’re right about the mini Master & Commander reunion being the best part of MP!!


  11. Tuesday, January 29, 2008 1:57 pm

    They WALTZED in this one? I think I’m going to have a stroke…. Not even French ladies would dance the waltz at a proper ball in this time period.


  12. Wednesday, January 30, 2008 2:47 am

    Oops, I didn’t see this post before commenting yesterday. Now I’m really not looking forward to seeing MP from my Tivo queue. It was TORTURE to sit through Persuasion, and if this is even worse, I don’t know if I can stand it.


  13. Friday, February 8, 2008 11:45 am

    So agree with your observations on MP 2007.
    Yet consider it slightly better than the appalling MP2- also, Maggie Wadey had to cram a great deal of story into 2 hours !
    Before and after I read the book, I found MP 1984 tv series enjoyable and still find it the best MP adaptation.



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