Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

I finally found time to watch my tape of the 'Complete Jane Austen' version of 'Mansfield Park' which appeared on PBS in January.

My disappointment in their version of 'Persuasion' was equalled by my disappointment in 'Manfield Park'. The one and one half hour version, while adequate for 'Persuasion', could not do justice to MP. It is a complex story and one the producers seemed to have deliberately simplified and misunderstood. It is not a simply romance, it is a discussion of a society in all its layers and nuances. Overall, the presentation suffered (as did Persuasion) from stilted performances, as though the actors were intimidated by acting such a classic of literature.

The first thing that really bothered me was the complete rewriting of the character of Fanny Price. This version portrays Fanny as a confident, if immature, tomboy. I can understand why they did it--their character appeals to a modern audience much more than Jane Austen's anxious subservient girl. But you cannot change a major character so much with impunity. Fanny Price shapes the story, and Billie Piper was not Fanny Price. I felt sorry for the poor actress to be so miscast. She was done no favours either with all that unlikely, loose, and unconvincingly coloured hair and the gowns that Fanny Price would never have donned!

The other actors were pleasantly competent, almost carbon copies of the 1980s MP version. Sir Thomas was better portrayed in this version, I must say that. His character in this film is more consistent with that Jane Austen wrote.

One character stood out--Edmund Bertram as portrayed by Blake Ritson. I thought he did an excellent job. Mr. Ritson really cared about his character and brought him to life: less saintly than the 1980's Edmund, more vigorous, more committed to his calling, and very good-looking :)

The final ten minutes of the film almost made up for all the other problems. It had all the natural warmth, convincing characterization and appealing adaptation that the rest of the film, and 'Persuasion' lacked. But all in all, 'Manfield Park' was a disappointing film, and I think I'll go watch the 1980's version again.

One good thing came from this viewing--I'm re-reading the book to see if my assessments about the screenplay and adaptation are accurate. I'm enjoying it immensely, and yes, I am right.

'Northanger Abbey' next; I'll let you know what I think!

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