Tuesday, 8 May 2012

Mansfield Park (2007)

I've read some fairly scathing reviews for this adaptation in the past and I'm fairly certain that if it wasn't for the 1999 film I would be much more critical of it. I finally got round to watching this adaptation of Austen's book fairly recently and every time that it got to a bit that I didn't really like I'd think "Well, at least it's nowhere near as bad as the 1999 film!" This ITV adaptation of Austen's Mansfield Park may not be brilliant but at the same time I don't think it's anywhere near as bad as some of the reviews I've read have made out. I think it's worth a watch and as long as you don't go into it with very high expectations I think it's actually quite enjoyable. I only have two real problems with this version which are:

1. Unlike ITV's adaptation of Northanger Abbey it's very obvious that this version was filmed on quite a low budget because every single scene takes place at Mansfield Park. In the book it's different. Yes, the majority of it is set in Mansfield Park but we do get scenes that take place elsewhere too. Some of the characters visit Mr Rushworth's estate at one point and there are some scenes that take place at the Grant's cottage (where Henry and Mary Crawford are staying). Also, Fanny spends three months in Portsmouth with her family. But we never get to see any of these places in this version which is a real shame. As beautiful as Newby Hall is it is quite boring to have the entire version filmed there. A change of scenery at some point would have been nice and refreshing. In fact I can deal with Rushworth's estate and the Grant's Parsonage not being shown, it's not being able to see the Price's house in Portsmouth that I really miss. It would have provided an interesting contrast to Mansfield Park and by not having the Portsmouth scenes we don't get to see Fanny's sister Susan. It's also quite weird how they write all of the characters out of Mansfield Park, apart from Fanny, so that she's alone when Henry Crawford proposes to her again. Lady Bertram getting up off her sofa to go on a three week holiday away from home? I don't think so! We don't get Julia's elopement with Mr Yates in this version either and Fanny's coming-out ball isn't shown. Well, it's sort of shown. Instead it's just changed to a coming-out... picnic. Honestly, changing the ball to a picnic? How cheap can you get?! Also, this version is 90 minutes long like the ITV version of Northanger Abbey was. If Northanger Abbey could have still done with being longer than that running time then Mansfield Park definitely does!

2. Although this version does provide a more Austen-faithful portrayal of Fanny Price than the 1999 film, the way that it portrays Fanny still isn't very Austen-faithful. In many scenes Fanny does come across as being shy, quiet and observant like she is in the book and the character certainly isn't mangled to pieces like in in the 1999 film. But at the same time you get the sense that the makers of this version still didn't have the guts to portray Fanny exactly how she is in Austen's book. Fanny doesn't put her foot down and refuse to participate in the play in this version, she talks back to Mrs Norris in one scene, and we get other scenes of Fanny running around Mansfield Park and its grounds. Fanny has poor health in Austen's book. If she'd tried to run around like Billie Piper does in this version she'd have probably killed herself! This brings me to Billie Piper who I feel was miscast in the role. Now I do think that Billie Piper is actually a very good actress and she really surprised me in Doctor Who. Even though I never really liked Rose Tyler, I thought Piper did a great job playing her. Piper's acting is decent in Mansfield Park but the problem is that she just looks far too modern for the role with her dark eyebrows and obviously dyed blonde hair. It's really quite distracting. And why oh why did no-one bother to tie her hair up?! I'm hardly an expert on Regency fashion but even I know that women wore their hair tied up when they reached adulthood (except when they were in the privacy of their own bedrooms). Fanny would have been expected to wear her hair up too even if she was the Bertram's poor relation! And why did they give her low-cut dresses?! I can sort of see why they gave the Bertram sisters and Mary Crawford low-cut dresses but why Fanny? Billie Piper's Fanny Price doesn't look remotely like a woman from the Georgian-Regency era, she's just too modern-looking.

Maybe it sounds like I really disliked this version but I honestly didn't. I don't think this version will blow anyone's mind but all things considered I think it's actually quite good. The location was beautiful (even if it did get boring after a while), quite a bit of dialogue was taken from the book, the actors were well-cast, and it sticks to the basic story. Is this version a faithful adaptation of Austen's book? Welllll...not really but it's more faithful than the 1999 film is. Fanny doesn't ever accept Henry Crawford's marriage proposal and the slavery only ever gets a brief mention. Sir Thomas doesn't rape slaves in this version and Tom isn't a tortured soul. Fanny's brother William is in this. Mary Crawford's final conversation with Edmund does not take place in front of Fanny and Sir Thomas either. In the book Mary dismisses Henry and Maria's affair as pure folly (which upsets Edmund) then attempts to put all the blame for the affair on Fanny (which upsets Edmund even more). Then Mary proceeds to put her foot in it even further by implying that she hopes Tom Bertram will die so Edmund can inherit all the family wealth (which makes Edmund very upset indeed). Edmund finally sees Mary's true colours and he wants nothing more to do with her. In the 1999 film Fanny and Sir Thomas are also there and they start arguing with Mary as well! Now this is just silly! Mary wouldn't have said all these things if there'd been a bigger audience!

Anyway, this particular version is certainly a lot more enjoyable than the 1999 film. Some scenes in this version are actually quite entertaining. I especially love a scene at Fanny's picnic. The characters are playing blindman's bluff and Fanny is the one wearing a blindfold. She's walking around, not being able to see, when Henry Crawford stands right in front of her. You get the sense that he's hoping she'll feel him up. But then Fanny shifts to the left and she touches someone else. The "what the hell?!" look that you then see on Henry Crawford's face is sooo funny! : ) The final 30 minutes or so of this version are also pretty enjoyable and even quite romantic. I really liked the scene when Edmund suddenly realises that he's in love with Fanny and the scene where he goes into her bedroom (no, it's not a dirty scene! ;)

Like I've said the acting is good in this version too. The 1999 film featured some good acting too but the acting is of a better standard here and most of the cast are really well-chosen. Piper is decent but the supporting cast are better. Blake Ritson makes for a very fit Edmund and - even though I dislike Edmund in Austen's book - Ritson's Edmund didn't irritate me nearly as much. I do think that Ritson gives a better performance at playing Mr Elton in the BBC's Emma (2009) though. Hey! This makes two actors who have been in Mansfield Park and Emma adaptations! Jonny Lee Miller played Edmund in the 1999 film of Mansfield Park and Knightley in the 2009 version of Emma. Blake Ritson played Edmund in the 2007 version of Mansfield Park and Mr Elton in the 2009 version of Emma. I really liked Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford in this too. Atwell is a beautiful woman and you can actually understand why Edmund is initially drawn to her rather than Fanny. In the 1999 film Frances O'Connor is actually better looking than Embeth Davidtz so that really didn't work! Atwell also plays the character really well and comes across as suitably charming and intelligent. I also really liked the actors playing Sir Thomas (Douglas Hodge), Tom (James D'Arcy), Maria (the underrated Michelle Ryan) and Henry (James Beattie).

Blake Ritson as Edmund Betram
Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford

Rating: (as long as your expectations aren't too high) 3/5

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