Sunday, March 6, 2011

The 2007 film entitled Mansfield Park is supposed to be a film adaptation of Austen’s novel, and in some ways it is. Mansfield Park (2007) follows the plot of the novel with some omissions, and it utilizes Austen’s characters also with some omissions. As it is only two hours, it is reasonable that the writers and director could not outline every detail written in Austen’s 320 page novel. Much of what is left out is left out for time and budget restrictions.

This in and of itself is not inexcusable. Time and budget restrictions are a natural part of adapting novels into films. However, this adaptation is hardly an adaptation at all. It would have been better to call it a film inspired by Austen’s Mansfield Park.

The characters are all wrong. One of the opening scenes between Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and Mrs. Norris highlights this best. They are shown in a dark room conversing clandestinely about Fanny’s upcoming arrival. Sir Thomas is depicted as a classist, nearly diabolical, man looking to torture Fanny for her meager beginnings, although later he becomes a loving father-figure to Fanny; he is not at all like Austen’s detached father figure. Lady Bertram is a woman with a strong voice and a great love for her dog; she is nowhere near the quiet, sickly, pampered woman she is in the novel. Mrs. Norris is severe and scolding. When she is trying to guilt-trip, her voice is breathy, and her point is nearly missed; she is very much unlike the novel’s whiny, self-involved Mrs. Norris. The Crawford siblings are manipulative, strangely sexualized, and possibly incestuous troublemakers. Henry Crawford never makes a connection with Fanny, and Mary Crawford is too calculating for any of her friendly advances to seem sincere. Fanny however is easily the character farthest from Austen’s character. I can appreciate that the novel’s Fanny would be a difficult character to include in a modern adaptation because she is supposed to be painfully quiet, respectful, and pious with a crippling inferiority complex and little opportunity nor inclination to exert her will; this does not always make for gripping television. Still, the film’s version of Fanny is this strange, child-like, playful, almost insolent girl who is only quiet around the elder Bertrams and who takes every other opportunity to shamelessly flirt with Edmund, a man raised as her brother. She is no more interesting than the novel’s version; she is simply nothing like that original character.

It is perhaps best not to mention the acting.

The omissions in plot, likely left out for reasons of budget or time, are ill-chosen. Fanny never returns to Portsmouth; instead, she is left alone at Mansfield Park for a couple weeks. She never is faced with the complete isolation she feels while being left in a noisy, foreign, cramped place like Portsmouth; she is never faced with the realization that maybe Mansfield Park is her true home. Indeed, this version’s omissions in plot leave the story without a plot. Nothing happens, and the film just seems without a point.

I think that the film would have been watchable had it not been in comparison to Austen’s novel. As it were, it fell flat.

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