Mansfield Park as told by Patricia Rozema is completely different to Mansfield Park as told by Jane Austen. In this colourful but sensual BBC film, we are introduced to a version of Jane Austen's gentle novel that, in contrast to the original text, contains a family majorly involved in the slave industry, detailed illustrations of rape and torture, and, gasp, a rather strong sex scene. Austen purists will deem this as nothing less than criminal damage to a delicate, sweet and at times unassuming book.
Now, to be fair, those in love with Austen usually adore the 1995 BBC adaptation of Pride & Prejudice, which contains the iconic image of Darcy climbing onto the bank dripping wet after a natural water swim. This scene was from the mind of Andrew Davies (a god in the adaptation world) proving to the world we can still do Austen justice by reinterpreting her text. Some may argue that the reinterpretation of this text is more than just that, but we must remember that what we are viewing is an adaptation, not a word for word copy. The main plot line, most of the characters and the general idea of the book still remains (albeit held together by an un-Austen subplot). And I must confess, I love the film to bits. Even though the very free attitude to Austen's book was something to get used to, the key reason for this free-plotting was clear: not that much happens in the book. It is one of her most uneventful books (the 2007 ITV drama starring Billie Piper captured this aspect quite well) and relies on you feeling sympathy for Fanny from page to page. I am not trashing Austen (she is one of my favourite authors), I am just saying she wasn't faultless. Coming back to the film at hand, asides from being so beautifully photographed you want to eat it, it is utterly enthralling from beginning to end. Frances O'Connor is marvelous as the heroine taken in by icy relatives, and who realises she is in in love with cousin, Edmund (Johnny Lee Miller). Austen's irony is retained and, at times (surprise surprise) added in, with clever moments of humour amidst the darker periods. For me the film is a successful fresh take on a classic novel, rather than a violent vandalising of something pure and innocent.
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