Mansfield Park (1999) short review

3

The only “off” Austen adaptation of the 1990s, mostly because of changes from the tone/story of the original book, some of which succeed and some of which don’t.  I like the incorporation of Jane Austen’s juvenile writings and the spunk-ification of Fanny (probably one of the most retiring of Austen’s characters, although readers of the book will understand that that has a purpose missed in this film), but didn’t enjoy the attempts to make the movie darker and more erotic than the book.  The costuming is definitely Hollywood-ized, with Fanny in weird jumper/shirt combinations that I’ve never seen in the period and Mary Crawford in VERY modern fabrics/cuts.  Maria and Julia Bertram (played by the fabulous Justine Waddell) get some great gowns, however, and there’s a great appearance by the VERY fabulous Sophia Myles as Fanny’s younger sister.

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About the author

Kendra

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Kendra has been a fixture in the online costuming world since the late 1990s. Her website, Démodé Couture, is one of the most well-known online resources for historical costumers. In the summer of 2014, she published a book on 18th-century wig and hair styling. Kendra is a librarian at a university, specializing in history and fashion. She’s also an academic, with several articles on fashion history published in research journals.

3 Responses

  1. Kai Jones

    I’m watching this during quarantine and wishing I had such a lovely home and park, if perhaps wishing for better company in it.

    Reply
  2. Lily Lotus Rose

    I’ve also done a Jane Austen deep-dive during this time of illness and social upheaval. Jane Austen is my “happy place” I guess. That said, I just finished re-reading the novel and re-watching this movie. It was my first time re-encountering these works since the 90s. Originally, I disliked both the book and the movie. And 20 years later, I still dislike them both. Even so, I have a greater appreciation for them both, too. (Hooray for maturity, I guess.) I realize now that the book is good, it’s just that I’m not drawn in by the characters.

    This film was cast with very capable actors who do a good job with the material they were given, but the choices made in the screenplay are lacking. I agree with Kendra’s short review above that some of these choices were a mixed bag. Namely, I did not like what Kendra called the “spunkification” of Fanny. It definitely made her more interesting as a film character, but I felt that that choice was a betrayal of the character as written in the novel. The exploration of slavery as a topic was interesting, but I think it was clunkily executed. Of all the Jane Austen adaptations I’ve seen, this movie was the most faithful dialogue-wise–whole passages were quoted at a time–but because the primary spirit of the novel was betrayed by changing Fanny so drastically, the faithful dialogue seemed like a novelty. Costume-wise, the movie was a mix of right and wrong to my non-expert eyes. All of the costumes looked good, but some looked more early 1900s to me than early 1800s. This adaptation features other odd choices, too regarding the set design and the music.

    Getting back to the cast, pretty much everyone was well cast. Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, and Lindsey Duncan (as Mrs. Price, not as Lady Bertram) were the perfect embodiments of their respective characters. Frances O’Connor was very good as “screenplay Fanny” instead of “book Fanny,” but that’s not her fault. I felt that my beloved James Purefoy was severely underused, as Tom who is a more important figure in the book than in this movie. The only person who was miscast, in my opinion, was Embeth Davis as Maria Bertram. I like her as an actress, but she was all wrong for this role. It was fun to spot other actors who have since gone on to prominence and/or acclaim like Downton Abbey alums Hugh Bonneville and Charles Edwards (Edith’s lost love Michael Gregson); a young Sophia Myles; and a very young Anna Popplewell as Betsy. The biggest disappointment was the exclusion of Fanny’s beloved brother William. The decision to keep Susan instead of William seemed to be motivated as a device to develop the Fanny/Jane Austen hybrid character–between her storytelling and letter-writing to Susan back home rather than to William at sea.

    This has all been a very long way of saying, this is a strange, yet well-meaning adaptation of the novel. Overall I think it’s worth watching to satisfy your curiosity.

    Reply
    • Lily Lotus Rose

      Correction to my post: Embeth Davis played Mary Crawford, not Maria Bertram. She was totally miscast as Mary Crawford.

      Reply

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