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Mama Deb
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Film Review: Mansfield Park

I just watched an interesting movie. Not actually a bad one - it was called Mansfield Park, like the Jane Austen novel and, interestingly enough, the characters had the same names as in the novel. In fact, there was also some passing resemblence to the plot as well, although it was clear it had a very different source material.

Yeah, it was that far off.



Let's start with the worst - Fanny herself. The Fanny I know is a meek, mousy girl, who hides in shadows and only speaks her mind when pressed -she's what Jane Eyre tried and failed to be. She asks for nothing, and does not know how to accept it when she is given things she doesn't feel she deserves. She's physically weak, depending on riding to maintain health. She's also easily tired. She reads Improving books, has a firm moral stance from which she does not waver - there is steel beneath that pliancy - and loves nature in all its glory.

She is *not* a young Jane Austen, writing long letters full of exciting stories to her sister, and making witty remarks along the way. They have her reading Jane Austen's own Juvenalia as if it were Fanny's own. fact, she doesn't even write to her sister - she writes to her beloved brother William, who doesn't appear at all. She is not dark and vivacious. She does not run through the manor, and she does not leap on a horse to ride away her emotions, and she certainly doesn't do it *astride*. She's too utterly passive for that. She knows the man she loves is in love with someone else, and she simpy waits for her heart to break, and says nothing, and no one realizes it.

She wouldn't dare talk to her uncle about slaves, not that she seemed to care about them in the novel anyway.

See, I can understand why movies are different than books. Even if I don't like it, I can see why they might drop William and replace him with "Susie" (not *Susan*). It really makes no difference if Mrs. Norris moves from the Parsonage to the Manor, as opposed to her little house. I can even understand why they'd drop the trip to Sotherton.

But there are other changes that made no sense - Lady Bertram is stupid and indolent, but to make her an opium addict? Why? It doesn't add anything at all to the story. To put some of Mrs. Norris' hateful words into Sir Thomas' mouth? Again, why? To make Henry stupid enough to sleep with Maria Rushworth in her own father's house? He's reckless, and he was upset (and he actually had reason to be upset), but to do that? Maria isn't stupid, either.

Why did Henry have the right to be upset? Because in this movie, Fanny actually said "Yes" to him - which is utterly ridiculous. But to make it worse, she *took it back*. Fanny Price, having made a commitment, would NOT take it back. It's not in her to do that. If she accepted Henry's proposal, she'd marry him.

He'd spent a night as a happy man. She took that away from him. Doesn't excuse him sleeping with Maria, but it's just. So out of character.

To make matters worse, they kept talking of Fanny as the meek, mousy creature in the book, and it just wasn't so.

Oh, and a minor bit that really shows the problems of the film - at one point, Mary Crawford writes a letter to Fanny speaking of "Dear Mrs. Rushworth" - this is a quote from the novel. She's making fun of the way Mrs. Norris refers to her married niece. Except. Not once in the film do we hear Mrs. Norris saying that. So if one isn't familiar with the source material, one wouldn't know.

I'm glad I saw this, but I really doubt I'll watch it again.

Comments

I knew which film version you were talking about even before I started reading the description.

Someday I might be able to bring myself to watch it again and see whether it's a decent movie if I pretend it wasn't ever intended to have anything to do with the Austen book. Someday I might regrout the shower tiles too. Actually, the shower tiles are sounding more appealing.

Now, the 1983 BBC version with Sylvestra Le Touzel is a pretty good version; it's reasonably true to the book (and shows why the particular scenes from Lover's Vows would have been a little too interesting).

There was just so *much* that was wrong.

Mary Crawford. Mary Crawford is *petite and blonde*, which was why she was no competition to the tall and dark Bertram girls. And she'd never wear black - she's very much the "only wears white" type, even if Austen never says so. And even she would not talk blythely about a son's death around his parents.


She wouldn't dare talk to her uncle about slaves, not that she seemed to care about them in the novel anyway.

Isn't there a dinner-table conversation in the book where Fanny talks about slavery? Yes, here's the citation (from the Project Gutenberg e-text):

"But I do talk to him more than I used. I am sure I do.
Did not you hear me ask him about the slave-trade
last night?"

"I did--and was in hopes the question would be followed
up by others. It would have pleased your uncle to be
inquired of farther."

"And I longed to do it--but there was such a dead silence!
And while my cousins were sitting by without speaking a word,
or seeming at all interested in the subject, I did not like--
I thought it would appear as if I wanted to set myself
off at their expense, by shewing a curiosity and pleasure
in his information which he must wish his own daughters
to feel."


In historical context, I think Austen intended her readers to deduce that Fanny's shy but firm moral principles were raising uncomfortable questions about the source of the family's money. In her innocence she expects that her uncle is of course already doing the right thing -- but he is not, and it is making them rich.

Of course, you're right. I think the word I should have used was "challenge" - she challenged her uncle about slaves.

Fanny seemed to want approval from both Edmund and Sir Thomas about speaking up even a little on the topic, and Sir Thomas wanted her to say even more. So she wasn't challenging him.

I honestly don't know what Fanny (Or Jane Austen) thought about slavery.

God, I read the amazon.com reviewers' comments and flinched. And it's so ironic, I'm reading it again and just--my mind bends. I can't even connect it with Mansfield Park, and this is the first time I totally understand why people get freaked out about book to movie mistakes. I love Jane Austen, so--yeah. Totally do not want to see.

I remember when that film came out and I decided not to see it. I guess they felt people would only want a strong, independent heroine. (Which is not to say that I don't think of Fanny as strong.)

It's even more of a mess than I thought it was.

(William does show up in the novel though. I remember him talking about Fanny, saying something about wanting to dance with her even though brothers aren't supposed to dance with their sisters.)