Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)

Pemberley (Lyme Park, Cheshire)
Oh, to be in England...

Saturday, August 17, 2013

Mansfield Park 2007 vs 1999


Oh, dear, the matter of a Mansfield Park film. Her most controversial novel has been, unsurprisingly, the most difficult to film. In both the 1999 and 2007 film adaptations (112 minutes and 120 minutes respectively) the shy, sensitive and highly moral Fanny Price is changed into...well...not Fanny Price, in order to make her more sympathetic to modern viewers.


The 1999 Mansfield Park by Patricia Rozema openly admits in the opening credits that it is based on the book and on the diaries of Jane Austen. Basically, Patricia Rozema makes the character of Fanny Price into a version of Jane Austen herself, in order to give her the liveliness and spark that so many have found lacking in poor, weak little Fanny. Heck, apparently even Jane Austen's own mother found the Fanny of the novel "insipid".


I am fully aware that Jane Austen purists tend to dislike the 1999 film, however it is actually one of my beloved old friends, and tends to get popped into the DVD player on a regular basis. I have no problem with the slightly modern costumes and the feisty, robust Fanny as played by Frances O'Connor. I love the cheeky way that Fanny (both young and older version) looks into the camera to deliver the odd aside. I find the photography breathtaking, the music perfectly wonderful, and most of the main thrusts of the plot are there, even if they have been tinkered with a little bit.


OK, OK, my love of this version may have a teensy weensy bit to do with the fact that a very young Jonny Lee Miller plays Edmund Bertram (albeit with unnaturally red lips, but I won't hold that against him). I mean, look at that face! It's no wonder Fanny fell for him, am I right?


Victoria Hamilton and Justine Waddell are truly wonderful as Maria and Julia - the wicked, selfish cousins who delight in making Fanny feel inferior every chance they get.


And I tip my hat to Hugh Bonneville who captured the idiotic Mr. Rushworth perfectly. And the hair...oh the hair! Teeheeheehee!


Alessandro Nivola made the character of Henry Crawford quite appealing and really helped us feel that Fanny almost got swept away by his very effective courting. Oh, the fireworks and the doves and the flowers! And he seemed so earnest (almost). But Fanny listened to her heart. Good girl, you held out for Jonny- I mean the virtuous vicar Edmund!


The rest of the cast is pretty darn good too, from Lindsay Duncan as both Mrs. Price and Lady Bertram to James Purefoy who is easy on the eyes as Tom Bertram. Sheila Gish is almost as good a Mrs. Norris as the cat in Harry Potter (I love J.K. Rowling for that little gem)! And Sophia Myles was very taking as Susan Price.


However, I can't be the only one creeped out by Harold Pinter's lecherous Sir Thomas Bertram. Ewwwwww! Great acting but a really creepy take on Sir Thomas.


And now we move on to the 2007 Mansfield Park. I am a pretty easy audience when it comes to Jane Austen adaptations but I found this one particularly difficult to love. I think it mostly has to do with the casting of Billie Piper as Fanny Price. Buxom, bleached blonde (with dark brows), she seems to be all teeth and unkempt hair. And they made the young Fanny a bleached blonde with dark brows too!!! Again, she is not the timid, sickly and saintly Fanny of the novel as she tears around the house grinning maniacally. But that would be the fault of the script. I suppose Billie Piper is a good actress, she just didn't make me care for her Fanny.


Now, apart from the casting of the main character, let's begin with the good points of this adaptation. There is some fabulous acting, starting with a very heartfelt performance from Blake Ritson as Edmund (OK, apart from the delivery of the line "I have always loved...this room!"- groan).


The performance of Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford was really very good. I always love Hayley Atwell in whatever she is in, and she delivered again here. Unfortunately Joseph Beattie was a bit dull as Henry Crawford. He just didn't do it for me after the brilliant sex appeal of Alessandro Nivola's Henry Crawford. Sorry!


James D'Arcy was very good in the role of the heir to Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram. He is a great actor, but I believe James Purefoy has the edge in a Tom Bertram smackdown. However as for the actors who played Maria and Julia Bertram and Mr. Rushworth, I cannot even be bothered to look up their names. Enough said.


I do have to give a shout out to Joseph Morgan the actor who plays Fanny's elder brother William Price. I really missed his character in the 1999 version and he is everything I pictured him to be. Adorable, actually, even though they made him dance the hornpipe on the lawn of Mansfield Park. Actually there was altogether too much outdoor dancing in this adaptation. I can't help but think that it was cheaper to film out of doors. Pity!


Mrs. Norris as played by Maggie O'Neill was just OK. But I really kind of liked Jemma Redgrave's take on Lady Bertram. Lindsay Duncan's drug addled Lady Bertram in 1999 was a bit too indolent (her pathetic and slatternly Mrs. Price was much better). Although it was a departure from the novel, Jemma Redgrave gave Lady Bertram a sweetness and prescience that was refreshing, although not perhaps what the author intended. It may be my affection for Jemma Redgrave as Bramwell which is disposing me kindly to her acting here.


I liked Douglas Hodge's version of Sir Thomas. He is a bit bombastic and mean to poor Fanny, although I suppose that is the character as written. I will say that I liked Douglas Hodge better in both The Way We Live Now and Middlemarch, but that is probably partly due to the script here. I mean, leaving Fanny on her own to skip around the Great House (instead of sending her back to Portsmouth) is hardly a punishment for refusing Henry Crawford. It was rather a treat for her to be away from all those who normally mistreated or took her for granted.

Hey, I just realized that there is a haha in the photo above! (LOL or hahahaha!)


Anyway, I guess this version is OK. Meh! But we still need a really good film adaptation (preferably miniseries in length) of Mansfield Park. Or is this book truly unfilmable? I don't think it is. All it needs is the right screenplay (come on Andrew Davies or Sandy Welch) and some money and good direction and casting behind it.

But the real question is can they leave the character of Fanny Price as it was written by Jane Austen or does she need to be livened up a bit for the modern audience? Please discuss in the comments below. I look forward to your views!

Cheers!

22 comments:

  1. Fanny Price is so good and proper it makes the character dull. And unlike Emma she can't grow or develop, because she already is 'perfect' and only waits for her man to come and notice her.

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  2. I completely agree with your analysis. Although I absolutely love the '99 film version, it's not true to the book. I didn't like the 2007 version at all. Hopefully the BBC will give it a try one day. I haven't seen the 80's version by the way, that one is supposed to be pretty good.

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  3. I'm with you regarding the 1999 film--I think it's a good "based on" movie and there is lots to love about it.

    I watched the Billie Piper version once and could barely get through it. It was atrocious.

    I do love Jemma Redgrave and thought Bramwell excellent. She would make a terrific Lady Russell, or possibly a Lady Susan. She has a steeliness that is just so Austenesque.

    I wish scriptwriters would have more faith in Austen. Fanny is a terrific character as written. She has an iron will under a facade of weakness, and no one has figured out how to portray that, or even attempted to portray that quality, which is sad because I find it fascinating.

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  4. I agree with your analysis! I feel guilty for liking the '99 Mansfield Park - as though I shouldn't be allowed because it is not true to the book. But I can't help it - I enjoy the film! I do think a new adaptation would be worth trying.

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  5. I'd enjoy a screenplay that characterizes Fanny as written. Maybe Charlotte Gainsborough who did a great job with Jane Eyre's complex interiority (which might, externally, seem like dullness).

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  6. I have seen the '80s version—it is very, very faithful to the novel and also to the character of Fanny. You just have to accept the production values that were prevalent in that period of television adaptations (video tape instead of cinematography, cheap sets, stagey direction), which some people find off-putting. In my humble opinion, you cannot have a true adaptation of Mansfield Park without a true portrayal of Fanny. The entire novel and all the relationships in it revolve around her goodness and innocence. If you change Fanny, you just don't have Austen's novel.

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    1. And also, you don't have to like a character for that character to have impact. Fanny, for all her mildness, does have impact on all the action around her, and she certainly does leave an impression—not the kind of impression Lizzie or Emma leave, but her own unique impression.

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  7. I enjoy Mansfield Park. 1999 version please....can't do the newest.....ick. I just thought how could they make Fanny into such an idiotic character. I see strong moral values in her and I enjoy her for that. I don't feel that she's too perfect. She has wisdom in the face of her ridiculous cousins. I agree with Leticia.

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  8. Billie Piper certainly looked out-of-place playing the role of Fanny Price. But to do her justice, I loved her role as the gutsy Rose Tyler in the BBC series Doctor Who (with David Tennant as The Doctor). Billie won the Most Popular Actress award in 2005 and 2006 at the National Television Awards. The 1983 adaptation of Mansfield Park, with Sylvestra Le Touzel as the insipid heroine Fanny and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram is as close as you can get to the original (book) version. I agree with you, dear Jenny, about Jonny Lee Miller, who played the role of Mr George Knightley, with Romola Garai, in the 2009 BBC series of Emma. Any female with sensibilities of the romantic and sensual kind would not fail to notice (and fancy) Jonny Lee Miller.

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  9. It seems we all have objections to the way that Fanny is characterized in the film adaptations. While there are redeeming elements in the 1999 and 2007, the crux of the matter is the portrayal of Fanny. And our comments point to an underlying issue: Austen's characterization of Fanny in her novel. For many of us, it is difficult to relate to Fanny. Even if you don't see yourself as Elizabeth Bennett or Anne Elliot, you can happily envision having such friends. They are easily endearing. But Fanny is different.

    I recently reread Mansfield Park at the prompting of my roommate. And while I am by no means newly in love with this novel, I have a greater appreciation for this woman child who exercises the only power she has by striving to live out and holdfast to what she believes. But I am interested in what others think about Fanny and how Austen portrays her. Is it sufficient or fitting to characterize Fanny as weak or uncomplicated? Maybe she is. I'm willing to be led that direction. Or does her characterization challenge us as readers in some way? I've certainly spent more time thinking about the characterization of Fanny than I have of any other Austen heroine. I'm interested to hear what this bunch has to say.

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  10. Hi Jenny,

    I guess the real question is...how would you feel about the '99 version if you had never heard of Jane Austen? I loved that movie as a separate work. I love all of Jane's books, but I have no problem with film makers making excellent adaptations of her work even if they take liberties with the plot. Sometimes it is required, especially when you consider that it takes many hours to read a book and a movie is about 2 hrs long. If I want the real thing I always go back to the books :) In fact my first exposure to Jane, was Emma Thompson's Sense and Sensibility. I had never heard of Jane Austen, and that movie (with it's missing characters, etc.) inspired me to find everything I could about Jane Austen and her work. And if a movie can do that, in my book, it's a good one.

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    1. Hi Olga, you and I are of the same mind! If a film is good, it doesn't have to BE the book. Every interpretation will be different anyway as film is not the same as prose. I don't understand some of the hatred of the 1999 version. Even the 07 version...I don't hate it, I just don't love it! Meh!
      And I think there are a lot of us who came to adore Jane Austen's novels via film adaptations. It was Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy for me!!
      Cheers!

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    2. Matthew McFadden's Mr. Darcy got me...

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  11. ps... Totally agree with Jenny about the 2007 version. A total misfire.

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  12. I would love to read your analysis of the 1983 version.

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  13. "she just didn't make me care for her Fanny." -- You should have thought that one through...

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  14. Having just been re-reading through collection of The Six Novels (No juvenilia nor Sanditon so far), and having watched the numerous BBC etc. adaptations, presently I am not satisfied, either, with filmed versions of Fanny Price. (I certainly cannot accept Billie Piper in the role.) There has not been a Fanny Price on screen.

    This might be because Miss Austen made the others far more interesting than Fanny. But Fanny was something of a - is it catalyst? Or is it of an uninvolved mirror holding the rest of the cast to account?

    I read a literary review of Mansfield Park a couple of years ago, which postulated that Fanny was as Miss Austen herself wished to be. It was on the Internet. Stupidly (very), I did not make a source note, and can't find it. It is just one view, but a bit interesting.

    Judith

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  15. I think with the appropiate director and actress, you could do jewels! (Ang Lee do with Emma Thompson in Sense and Sensibility despite the fact that Elinor Dashwood was almost so shy and quiet as Fanny). Fany is quiet, but no stupid, and her values give her force... did you ever seen Gilmore Girls? I imagine her as Rory Gilmore. You could do a interesting (and correct) version of a book if you propose!

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  16. I think that a Mansfield Park with a really good Fanny Price (I mean one who was truly faithful to the novel) would actually be an awesome movie. You see, I know this is gonna sound presumptuous, but I see a lot of myself in Fanny Price . . . we both have trouble asserting ourselves when we know it will cause conflict. But that's actually something of a character flaw, because sometimes you NEED to speak up and assert your rights. So Mansfield Park, in a way, is about Fanny's struggle to learn to stand up for herself and trust her own judgment instead of her uncle's and Edmund's, when she refuses Henry Crawford. I can easily relate to her pain when she had to go against what her uncle wanted, because I would feel the exact same way myself. But she does the right thing, anyway, even though it makes her feel so awful . . . and she gets her reward in the end. So I think it's a great story and would make a wonderful movie, if it was only done properly.

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  17. The 1983 miniseries is really quite good, one overarching reason for this being its faithfulness to the novel. Don't call it "Mansfield Park" if it is not true to Jane Austen's intent. Some less-than-adequate production values in this early version are often distracting (e.g., loud gravel-crunching of the wheels almost overwhelming conversation in a carriage), but it is well staged and well acted---and is true to the novel in principal respects.

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  18. I've read all these posts. I'm still not sure where the originator hails from...UK? US of A?? Makes a difference. I'm a lifetime Austenite as was my mum and is my daughter.I'm a purist but sadly my daughter has strayed from the path and is desperate for me to watch pride and prejudice and zombies. I can't do it. I had enough trouble with the Bollywood version... As for Mansfield Park, I can't help but admire the accuracy of the 1983 version but oh dear! The acting is truly terrible apart from brief inspired moments. Frances O'Connor and cast however, are natural and totally believable but the script is- as the blurb attests, BASED on Austen's book and includes wonderful references to her actual life. By far the best of the versions yet. As for the Billie Piper version....I watched about 15 minutes before I decided that perhaps we should never mention that version again in my home and that is what we have done.
    That's MY ten pennyworth. Austen rocks.

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