27 January 2008

Mansfield Park

I mentioned last week that I looked forward to seeing what ITV had done with Mansfield Park. The last adaptation, in 1999, leaped off the rails at one point and took a few too many liberties with the plot, liberties which changed the essence of the characters. That is a cardinal sin in my book. Additionally, the first time I read Mansfield Park it seemed a death-march. I had to force myself to continue reading it, something I had never had to do with an Austen novel before. It was work to slog through some of the chapters. The heroine is very unlike Austen's others. Additionally, more of her childhood and adolescence is in the book. I re-read it a couple of years later and liked it much better. I know a lot of people dislike the character of Fanny Price. They think her insipid, or boring, or judgemental. And I believe a lot of readers think her very plain, which isn't necessarily true. The book mentions how her relatives started to notice how well she looked after others noticed. In my mind, that doesn't mean she was plain or unattractive, just that her relatives never really looked at her. She was a sort of non-entity in the house, who was only noticed when something went awry. I think because Fanny Price is, for the most part, timid and quiet we get much more of her internal musings than we get with other of Austen's heroines.

All of which is to say that with a character that spends so much time within her own head, an adaptation is fraught with difficulty. If readers believe her to be plain and insipid then any actress cast will be 'not Fanny' in their minds. If the adaptors share the opinion of readers and try to spice Fanny up a bit, we end up with the last adaptation, which was more an interpretation filtered through 20th century attitudes. I know the casting of Billie Piper as Fanny Price was controversial to many, who thought her very much 'not Fanny' in that she was blonde and buxom. I thought she did quite well with the character. I may be in the minority, but I highly enjoyed this adaptation. I realize it cut down the intricacies of the story to fit with the time alloted, but they covered the important points quite well. I have only a few quibbles.

My first quibble, in importance if not in chronology, is that Sir Thomas didn't send Fanny to Portsmouth. That is a very important part of the story, especially in Fanny's response to her family and their lifestyle. It is a wake-up call for Fanny, just not in the way Sir Thomas wanted it to be. Leaving Fanny in solitude at Mansfield Park was a very poor substitute. I assume the change had to do with shooting schedules and production costs, but it left out a very important part of the growth that both Fanny, and the Bertrams attitude toward Fanny, go through. It seems to lessen Fanny's happy ending to leave out the really unhappy alternative she faced.

A second quibble is the lack of explanation afforded to the Bertram's attitudes toward Fanny. The short scene in which she runs crying from a gooseberry tart doesn't really explain how frightening it was for Fanny to deal with the Bertrams' ways. Additionally, this adaptation softened both Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris considerably. Lady Bertram was always silly, but the adaptation gave her a bit of redemption at the end, which I don't know was deserved. And Mrs. Norris got off extremely easy. She is such a loathesome character and her diminished screen time didn't set up what a delightful punishment her self-imposed banishment with Maria was nor why she deserved it. Maybe I'm just too short on mercy of late, but I feel that the film glossed over how much of a hand Mrs. Norris had in all the evil that befell the Bertrams.

This brings me to my last quibble. All the time that was taken up with the happy ending. My favorite part of the novel is Austen's admission of the forgone conclusion of Fanny and Edmund, while leaving it up to the reader to decide the particulars. The addition of the new-fangled waltz at the end seemed incongruous for the characters of Fanny and Edmund. I'm happy for them, and seeing Edmund suffer uncertainty for a night while Fanny got a bit of her own back was enjoyable, but I would have rather they spent those 10 minutes in Portsmouth, or fleshing out Mrs. Norris or giving Julia a bit more consideration. It seemed unecessary in comparison with what was glossed over or left out.

All told, however, I enjoyed it and I enjoyed Billie Piper as Fanny. I did spend a lot of time trying to figure out where I had seen the rest of the cast before. The whole movie was spend thinking 'Hey, it's that guy/girl!' and not being able to remember where they were from. Except for the Bionic Woman. She and her decolletage were pretty memorable as Maria.


Duludes said...

Well I did get a chance to watch this one, I haven't gotten to the others yet. I did enjoy this one and liked the the actress that played Fanny. I can't complain about Edmund either.

Scully said...

No, I couldn't complain about Edmund either. I checked IMDB to find out where I had seen everyone else and it turns out Edmund was Cedric Diggory in Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Scully said...

Oops, read IMDB wrong. Not Cedric in the movie, but rather did the voice-over on the video game. Sorry about the misinformation there.

esperanza said...

You need to hire out as a movie critic! :)

Nemesis said...

Cedric Diggory IS playing Edward the vampire in Twilight, though. Not that it has anything to do with anything, of course.

Bionic Woman! I SO did not make the connection, so thank you.