Thursday, November 1, 2012

Film Review: Mansfield Park by Lindsi Bonar

Mansfield Park (1999) Review
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
Starring: Frances O’Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola
Mansfield Park is the story of Fanny Price, a young woman given over to the care of her rich relatives by her impoverished parents. She is raised surrounded by the comforts of affluence, although she is treated with some distinction between her and her wealthy cousins. Fanny grows up with her cousins, Tom (a money wasting cad), Edmund (the level minded younger brother, destined to be a clergyman), and their sister, Julia and Maria, who we don’t know much about unless they’re doing something terrible, like cheating on a husband. Although this film has some positive elements, it was, overall, unsatisfying to me. I’m not so sure that this film is unsuccessful in its adaptation of Jane Austen – I’m just not a fan. 
 The film shows the audience some important themes of Austen. It brings to the forefront one of JA’s pet themes, the education of women. The dialogue throughout seems to draw on Austen-ish principals, although occasionally a modern sounding phrase will slip in, such as when one of the characters states, “This is 1806, for Heaven’s sake!” – I’m fairly sure Austen didn’t write that one. The “marriage market”, as we discussed it in class, does come up. Fanny’s love for Edmund is clear, but she’s pressured to marry the rich, but arrogant Wickham-like character, Henry Crawford (she eventually chooses not to). The film grasps at these ideas, but I feel like it’s only on the surface level. Maybe I’m spoiled by immersion in the world of Austen, but I expected more subtlety than Fanny Price constantly saying, “Hey, maybe it’s the result of education!” Okay, not constantly. But it happened at least once. I may have also been taken aback by Fanny occasionally breaking the fourth wall – I’m still not sure what the director’s reasons were for making that happen.
To further develop the character of Fanny, the director chose to portray her as a blossoming author (furthering the Education theme), and quotes several times directly from the works of young Jane Austen (notably, “Run mad as often as you chuse, but do not faint.” For me, this was another odd decision, although I’m sure it’s one the average viewer wouldn’t take any notice of. I haven’t read the novel, but there surely was material enough there to draw from to develop Fanny Price in the film.
Despite some good qualities, rarely have I been so incredibly off-put by a film. For the first hour or so, it trucked merrily on its way as a decent representation of Jane Austen. However, although I haven’t read the novel, I feel confident that at no point were there graphic (albeit drawn) images of slaves being beaten and raped slapping the reader in the face in the middle of the action. When poor Fanny Price finds the notebook that contains these images, she’s obviously shocked, and her uncle, Sir Thomas, comes across her looking at them. He violently knocks the book out of her hand, threatens to hit her, and sends her away to her room. There is a time and place to add material where it wasn’t originally, if there’s a good purpose, but for me, this didn’t serve a good purpose. I’m fairly sure this film is much closer to the realm of being “oblivious to the themes and ideas of Austen criticism,” although it would think itself aware of being an Austen film.
            I’m sure I sound like a Negative Nancy reviewer, but I was generally not thrilled with this adaptation of an Austen novel. Maybe if I hadn’t gone into it with the mindset of expecting Austen it wouldn’t have been so bad. Even so, I think I would still be unsettled by the awkwardly placed, violent scene toward the end. Clearly, I’m of the school that believes a film adaptation of a novel should at least try to remain true to its roots, although I know not everyone feels the same.

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