The Ex-Communicator - Mansfield Park

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March 19th, 2007


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07:41 am - Mansfield Park
I watched Mansfield Park (on ITV with Billie Piper) last night. I'm pretty tolerant of Jane Austen adaptations, and I don't mind too much about faithfulness to the original. But, I thought the script was utter crap. The acting was fine, I thought they generally did the best they could. It's a bit hard to say because the script messed up the characters, the plot, the morality, and lost the wit of the original. So, what was left? The bare outline of 'Fanny holds out for Edmund and gets him'. Big fat morally vacuous deal.

Mansfield Park is always a bit problematic. The Crawfords are more fun than anyone else, and while they are cruel and destructive, they are redeemable, and it is part of the tension of the story that Edmund and Fanny could redeem them, but choose not to. It's very problematic to the reader. You do find the two goodies to be priggish. You do want to say to them - get together with the baddies, you'll give them a bit of depth, and they'll give you a bit of fun for the first time in your dull self-sacrificing lives.

The novel, IMHO, does something interesting with this. You see the goodies wavering, being sexually tempted by the baddies, and on the brink of resolving into a kind of fertile match between the virile selfish side and the soft empathic side. The baddies spoil it by being too impatient, and failing at the last test. You still feel pretty annoyed with the goodies for being so priggish, but you think that given a few more prods they would have gone over to the dark side, and all the better for everyone.

But no. In this version they just cruelly turn their noses up at the Crawfords, coming across as pricks rather than just prigs. The scene of Fanny and Edmund standing grinning in the portico of the house, while everyone else is in (implied 'well deserved') misery and shame got right up my nose.

And the insertions of modern perspective into the text were stupid. Fanny 'Do you think sir that we will ever manage to do without slaves on our plantations?' and the stupid final scene where Edmund and Fanny, who have rejected fashionable urban society throughout suddenly start dancing a waltz (what was the line 'I believe Edmund and Fanny have discovered a new dance' WTF?)

The script writer is called Maggie Wadey whom I don't know.

(17 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


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From:hafren
Date:March 19th, 2007 11:17 am (UTC)
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It was bloody awful. The garish make-up, on young ladies who would no more have worn it than walked the streets, really annoyed me, as did the sloppy pronunciation. Apparently both were deliberate, to make the characters more "modern" - but if you do that, you need to dress them in jeans, not 18th-century costume. And nobody seems to have noticed that Fanny is permanently ill and can barely walk, never mind run everywhere.
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From:communicator
Date:March 19th, 2007 02:04 pm (UTC)
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make the characters more "modern"

This makes me so cross. As if modern=exhibiting the superficial character-clichés of modern lazy TV. Modern people are just as capable of being complex and fragile as people were 200 years ago. Bloody hell. I'm surprised they weren't all rabbiting on about shoes and chocolate :-(
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From:espresso_addict
Date:March 19th, 2007 12:25 pm (UTC)
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I rarely turn something off once I've decided to watch it, but I bailed on this one 2/3 of the way through. Strangely, the thing that most put me off was the lack of locations -- I turned it off at the point where Fanny was left at Mansfield rather than being shipped to Portsmouth, as this seems key Fanny's character development in the novel. Billie Piper seemed physically entirely unsuited to play Fanny, but I quite liked whoever was playing Edmund.

What did you think of the Patricia Rozema film? I hated it on first viewing, but I'm minded now to go back and see whether I like it by contrast.
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From:communicator
Date:March 19th, 2007 02:10 pm (UTC)
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Yes - not going to Portsmouth!! That's the whole point. And it shows the other side of Henry Crawford and everything.

I compare it to the Gwyneth Paltrow 'Emma' I was watching on Saturday night which, OK, takes a few liberties, but had me mopping tears from my face *image of someone wringing a hanky out*

The Patricia Rozema one, yes, I thought it was fine. I particularly remember I liked Lindsay Duncan, though the rest is a bit of a blur. I'm very flexible about how these things are handled, but this one was the bloody limit.

I see Andrew Davies is writing the next one, Northanger Abbey. We'll see.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:March 19th, 2007 05:47 pm (UTC)
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I see Andrew Davies is writing the next one, Northanger Abbey. We'll see.

Given the quality of this one, I was going to give it a miss, but Davies can at least construct a functional script.
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From:altariel
Date:March 20th, 2007 01:14 pm (UTC)
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Fanny was left at Mansfield rather than being shipped to Portsmouth

As katlinel pointed out as we were watching it, that seems to have been done so that the entire production only needed a single set.
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From:communicator
Date:March 20th, 2007 01:32 pm (UTC)
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Probably, which is tragic really. So what did you two think of it?
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From:altariel
Date:March 20th, 2007 01:41 pm (UTC)
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I was pretty much asleep for the last half hour, which says something, and I think we both agreed that many of the performances were bland, and that the good ones struggled against poor script and poor direction. I hope they don't screw up Persuasion, but at least I have a good version of that to fall back on.
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From:altariel
Date:March 20th, 2007 01:42 pm (UTC)
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Most telling insight came from sugoll, who didn't know what the story was going in, and didn't know what it was coming out either.
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From:espresso_addict
Date:March 20th, 2007 03:18 pm (UTC)
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Swapping the ball for a picnic was a bit of a giveaway.
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From:pennski
Date:March 19th, 2007 08:36 pm (UTC)
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I'm looking forward to deconstructing it as I sit on the exercise bike - done the first 20 mins so far. Do they ever bother to explain who Mrs Norris is?
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From:communicator
Date:March 20th, 2007 07:01 am (UTC)
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Perhaps in the voice-over at the very start 'My mother's two sisters'? I was left wondering what a person who didn't know the story would make of it, they left so much out. I like the actress who played Norris - I don't know if you know 'Shameless' but she's Frank's mad wife - but she didn't have much to go on.
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From:pennski
Date:March 21st, 2007 06:41 pm (UTC)
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Ok, I've watched the rest of it now. Gosh that was bad. I can feel the ground in Winchester reverberating from here.

Sadly a lot of the dialogue is accurate, but uninspired.

Just for you, I have now posted my thoughts on the 1980, dialogue-perfect version of Mansfield Park in my lj. Enjoy!
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From:communicator
Date:March 22nd, 2007 07:31 am (UTC)
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Thank you. I don't know that 1980 version at all. I think you are right to say that words that work on the written page don't always translate very well to film.
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From:kalypso_v
Date:March 20th, 2007 08:48 pm (UTC)
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It was pretty disastrous from start to finish, and cutting Portsmouth was the worst of its crimes. That's vital in establishing how Fanny's even more distanced from her original family than from her adopted one, and how much it would cost her to be expelled from Mansfield for good. Having the place to herself didn't quite the mustard. And Henry's at his most attractive in those scenes.

OK, every adaptation of Mansfield Park I've ever seen comes up against the what-do-we-do-about-Fanny problem, and they always try to solve it by turning her into someone else. Making her a bouncy young thing who romps about the house tossing her golden locks in a manner likely to attract any man's attention is probably the most drastic metamorphosis yet. The whole point of Fanny is that she's the embodiment of "still waters run deep" - superficially weak, but the strongest will of the lot of them.

I thought they did slightly better on Edmund, who's even duller; they managed to make him quite appealing, though not, I thought, in a way that explained Mary's attraction to him. I did feel more sympathy for Mary than usual; I generally regard the whole story as the Tragedy of Henry Crawford, but I was more conscious than usual that she gets so caught up in what's effectively a holiday romance that she almost throws herself away on a second son. I really think concentrating on the Crawfords is the best solution to an adaptation - and showing Henry's gradual shift from flirting for his own entertainment to genuine attachment might be the key to demonstrating that Fanny's deeper than she looks.

As I've said before, the character I identify with is Lady Bertram. It was nice to have someone as attractive as Jemma Redgrave in the part, and she did get to sit on the sofa - some of the time - but I'd have her horizontal throughout, and talking much more slowly - so the climax of the novel, when she gets up, walks towards Fanny, and greets her with emotion, has its proper jaw-dropping impact...
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From:communicator
Date:March 21st, 2007 07:00 am (UTC)
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Yes, good insights, more or less all I can say is that's what I think too. I did think while I was watching 'Lady Bertram is probably rather too animated for kalypso_v's taste.' She even started manipulating events and taking an interest!

I suppose this adaption did get the Crawford's right, and that's not trivial. I thought the acting was quite good. And as for me, Henry over Edmund every time.
From:abigail_n
Date:March 22nd, 2007 06:07 am (UTC)
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Finally got around to watching the film last night. I agree that it wasn't good, but especially when compared to the Knightley P&P I don't think it was that terrible. Indifferent is probably the word I'd use.

I do agree that the Crawfords are redeemable (Henry more than Mary, I'd say), but they don't desire that redemption. Both siblings are capable of doing good, but not of desiring good as anything but a means to an end - in this case, Edmund and Fanny. Goodness, for them, is as much an affectation, a social convention, as the manners they put on in polite society - they see it as a means of getting by and getting people to like them, which in Austen's novels is the same thing as being depraved. This is in contrast to, say, Darcy and Elizabeth, who both work to improve themselves because they want to be better people, not as a way of gaining a lover.

Or, at least, I think. I'd like to write something longer about the novel and the film (and probably the Rozema adaptation from a few years back too) but I was a teenager when I read the novel and I'm not certain I can trust my recollections of it. I'm not sure if I have time to reread it right now.

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