Mansfield Park Movie Review

What is it about Jane Austen? This box-office stalwart has inspired five major film adaptations in the '90s (six counting the excellent BBC/A&E production of Pride and Prejudice in 1995).

I think I know what Austen's secret is: Her books are recent, but not modern. Her central characters have good manners and triumph over bad marriages or economic straits, instead of succumbing to their own vices or whining too much about their problems.

Mansfield Park is the last of Austen's major novels to be filmed recently, and I think it is usually considered Austen's weakest novel, though not too weak for cynical filmmakers to try to squeeze a bit more cash out of the writer's legacy.

Writer-director Patricia Rozema's cynicism comes out in other ways in this film, too. She transforms Austen's diffident, quiet heroine Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) into a sassy, '90s, politically-aware attitude girl who shows up the fatuousness of most of the other characters. Only Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller), Fanny's true friend and ultimate love interest, meets her approval.

Worse, Rozema has embellished the tale with a subplot about the moral evisceration of Fanny's adopted family, the Bertrams, caused by the family's ties to slavery (based on a few brief references in the novel to family business in the West Indies).

The movie features one of the best casts in the Austen movie series: O'Connor is very good, Miller just as good, and Harold Pinter (he can act, too) does well in the revised, over-politicized role of Sir Thomas Bertram. Rozema's direction gives the polite, overwritten novel some needed sensuality.

Unfortunately, Rozema has also refracted the novel through a modern, unsubtle, feminist bias. The result is still better than the average '90s politically-correct sermonette, but definitely not a portal into a 19th-century brain (Being Jane Austen it isn't).

Austen's book is a study on virtues like "constancy," an un-modern concept which does not mean the same thing as monogamy, nor does it mean being "true to oneself," Thelma And Louise style. It means believing in certain moral values and being true to them even though others' conduct is not always good or bad. Some of this subtlety comes through in the film, but most of the characters are either too good (i.e. Fanny) or too bad (everyone else, especially Sir Thomas) to be realistic studies. The subplot about slavery is especially jarring, because it introduces something morally unambiguous into a story which is about tolerating shades of moral ambiguity.

The best dialogue in the film is in Austen's spirit, such as Fanny's observation that "Life is but a succession of busy nothings" or Edmund's wish for a "life of compassion and contemplation" (as a clergyman). But too much of the dialogue is the kind of blunt raving that would have made 19th-century families as dysfunctional as today's, except that they customarily kept it to themselves.

Many of Rozema's revisionist additions ring false, like making Fanny an aspiring writer (even if there were autobiographical elements in the original novel, I doubt that Jane Austen was the smartass that Fanny is portrayed as here) or having a character say things like "this is 1806, for Heaven's sake."

It was supposed to be 1806, but Mansfield Park the movie has a little too much 1999 in it --- naïve social criticism, bathos, and vulgarity. And judging from the popularity of Jane Austen adaptations, a lot of moviegoers are tired of movies that remind them of the present.

Still, they'll probably take any period drama they can get...

Austentatious.

Comments

Mansfield Park Rating

" Good "

Rating: PG-13, 1999

Advertisement

More Embeth Davidtz

Pharrell Takes His Hat To 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' NY Premiere - Part 3

'Happy' singer Pharrell Williams and his famously large hat were spotted amongst the crowd at the New York premiere for 'The Amazing Spider-Man 2' alongside...

The Amazing Spider-man 2 Movie Review

As with the too-early franchise reboot in 2012, this sequel struggles to balance the demands of a teen romance with a superhero blockbuster. The interpersonal...

Paranoia Movie Review

With a strong cast and striking production values, this thriller is sleek enough to hold our interest even if corporate espionage isn't a very exciting...

Advertisement

Europa Report Movie Review

A bracingly original approach to both science-fiction and the found-footage genres makes this eerily realistic thriller well worth a look. Director Cordero may indulge in...

Paranoia Trailer

Adam Cassidy is a technology whizz who wants nothing more than to take care of his ailing father who is struggling to live in poverty-stricken...

The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo Trailer

Mikael Blomkvist is a journalist for Sweden's 'Millenium' magazine, a monthly publication that has a decent amount of readers. After publishing a shocking expos' on...

Schindler's List Movie Review

The best Holocaust movie ever made is Life is Beautiful. However, since Life is Beautiful came out in 1997, there has to have been...

Advertisement