By: Noemi Elliott
I lay before you the purpose of my Jane Austen column: to focus on reviews of select adaptations of her novels. On a five-point scale, I hope to justify my thoughts with the use of quotes, therefore, there will be inevitable spoilers. Beware. That said, each review will score the following: character development, additional/edited scenes/speeches (anything not in the original book), and production quality.
Warning: this review is written with a fundamental bias against Mansfield Park. I did not like the book, therefore, I was inclined to dislike the movie even before the opening titles. Sorry.
Like any Jane Austen adaptation, there are two lenses through which they can be viewed. First, as an authentic representation of the text, and secondly, as entertainment. As mentioned previously, Mansfield Park ranks as my least favorite Jane Austen novel (way below even Northanger Abbey). The story’s heroine, Fanny Price, is a pushover, who never voices her opinion and spends 99 percent of the story in love with a man who only ever sees her as a backup option. With this in mind, I watched the movie for the purpose of entertainment as I did not want a re-hash of this dreary novel. I was pleasantly surprised by the watchability of the movie in some parts but dissatisfied overall.
In this adaptation, Fanny is a strange mix of an unsophisticated girl, who is both too pliant and equally defiant. Yes, it is as if I am describing her as two opposites, but this is exactly the problem itself; she has no clearly defined character. In some instances, she speaks out against the status quo or runs around Mansfield Park chasing Edmund, while in others, she silently obeys her aunt, Mrs Norris, and acts as a refined young lady. Like any of Austen’s novels, the book is subject to the interpretation of the directors, screenwriters, and actors, so should they choose to portray the character in a different way, I am open to accepting and appreciating that difference. That said, this interpretation is rather confusing and unlikeable.
Of the many insertions in the movie, the only one I found particularly entertaining was when Fanny would speak directly to the camera. Yes, these scenes exemplify my previous statement on the duality of her personality, but they also provide some interesting moments. Fanny arrives at Mansfield Park as a young girl, and the audience watches her transformation in the refined society of her cousins. For example, she recounts history lessons, thus showcasing her proper, thorough education. Fanny sarcastically narrates her cousin Maria’s marriage in a way that made her character momentarily likeable, noting that “marriage is indeed a manoeuvring business.”
In contrast with the vibrant colors used in other Jane Austen adaptations, such as Emma. (2020), the scenes in Mansfield Park appear bleak. For the most part, scenes are either dark rooms or at night, so it is hard to discern any particular feature in the background. For a home reputed for its beauty and elegance, the director neglected to highlight these details most of the time. That said, some parts were well edited, showcasing both the ridiculous and elegant manner of the house and its residents. For example, there are five consecutive clips of different characters, Maria, Mary, Edmund, Mrs. Norris and Fanny, looking at their appearance in the mirror. The first four pamper their skin and adjust their hair, while Fanny merely glances at herself and walks away, thus providing a rather amusing contrast.
As a two-star movie, watching Mansfield Park is ill-spent. Perhaps other adaptations of the novel are even less successful by comparison, in which case, I recommend switching from a one-star film to a two-star film if those are your only options. If not, I suggest one spend their time pursuing more worthwhile activities, such as reading Persuasion, in preparation for my review of the 1995 movie.