Sunday, March 6, 2011

Mansfield Park (1983) BBC version

The unabridged production (or close to it). This 1983 BBC film sticks to the book like white on rice on a paper plate in a snow storm. Characters, plot, script and setting are right on cue with the 321 page novel.

I do not intend to sound condescending, for I feel that the BBC actually did an excellent job with this adaptation. Yes it lacked flare; there were no intimate moments bearing sexual tension, no firework-dove exploding love packages, nor any graphic depictions of the horrors of slavery. It was, however, quite enlightening and beneficial to observe an accurate depiction of early 19th century lifestyle for upper-class Britts. With the added bonus of a killer flute-based soundtrack!

Of course when you stretch a film production out over four and a half hours it provides you with ample amount of time to include nearly all details. I could embark on a description of how all of the characters identify perfectly with the book (personality, physically and their actions) but that would be a mere duplication of information. Again, what I found most interesting about this film was being able to watch exactly the way life was back in the early 1800's. In particular the: mannerisms, formalities, means of travel and overall relationship dynamics were beneficial to see through a distinct lens that could not be distorted. I have confidence that this lens I speak of was created by somebody who knows significantly more about colonial British culture than I do, therefore, my own imagination cannot misinterpret a film to the same degree that it would misinterpret a novel.

There is a significant amount of sitting around indoors, especially for Fanny. Fanny's lifestyle around Mansfield Park primarily consists of reading, reading aloud to Mrs. Bertram, sewing, cleaning, hovering in the background during evening social gatherings and waiting on the family. This is the reason why Fanny lacks the strength to walk a mile out of doors on a hot day and why Edward ends up insisting that she have her own horse to get proper exercise.

The relationship between Edward and Fanny is accurately captured in this adaptation. First of all, they are of the proper age difference. Edward is a young man when he first meets Fanny and then very much a man by the time Fanny becomes socially accepted at Mansfield Park. Both of them maintain a respectable distance with eachother, unlike in some of the other adaptations when there is clear sexual tension and attraction felt on a frequent basis. For the most part, like the book, Edward thinks fondly of Fanny more as a sister than a possible romantic partner and Fanny rarely betrays her feelings for Edward, until the end of course.

In many cases, one cannot help but laugh at the fickle nature of many of the characters and their actions. It's one thing to read about Lady Bertram always laying around and forever saying useless things, but to actually see this woman constantly flopped on a couch holding her pug, barely able to be heard or understood and utterly helpless is quite powerful. The same goes for Mr. Rushworth who, although he has the build of a man in his 20's, he also possesses the mental capacity of a todler. Mrs. Norris's outrageous behavior can be read about and her character despised, but when you actually see this woman in live action she becomes downright heinous.
The overall way in which people proceed during social encounters is almost downright painful to watch as well. If a Stonehill student were transported back in time 200 years they would go insane dealing with the extreme awkwardness at Mansfield Park. Everybody is stiff, grossly over-formal and shallow. Their conversations simply lack flow as there is so much attention given to status and formalities; in other words, who is allowed to speak first to whom, what information women are willing to betray, and the pompous nature that every man must emmulate whenever he opens his mouth.

Overall, if you did not care to read the book, this BBC film series would have gotten you by just fine through class discussions; it was that detailed. A little cheesy and monotonous at times, but as a whole quite valuable to gaining a visual understanding of the times we are reading about.

1 comment:

  1. The problem I have with this production of "MANSFIELD PARK" is that it is TOO faithful to the 1814 novel (except that it ignores the subject of slavery completely). Why do people think that a good adaptation means being completely faithful to its source? Sometimes, it's not a good thing. And this adaptation seemed to drag forever. Worse, it maintained some of what I believe to be Austen's story and characterization flaws.

    If I must be brutally honest, I have yet to come across a really good adaptation of "MANSFIELD PARK". And I have seen all three.