Saturday, August 17, 2013
Mansfield Park 2007 vs 1999
Oh, dear, the matter of a Mansfield Park film. Her most controversial novel has been, unsurprisingly, the most difficult to film. In both the 1999 and 2007 film adaptations (112 minutes and 120 minutes respectively) the shy, sensitive and highly moral Fanny Price is changed into...well...not Fanny Price, in order to make her more sympathetic to modern viewers.
The 1999 Mansfield Park by Patricia Rozema openly admits in the opening credits that it is based on the book and on the diaries of Jane Austen. Basically, Patricia Rozema makes the character of Fanny Price into a version of Jane Austen herself, in order to give her the liveliness and spark that so many have found lacking in poor, weak little Fanny. Heck, apparently even Jane Austen's own mother found the Fanny of the novel "insipid".
I am fully aware that Jane Austen purists tend to dislike the 1999 film, however it is actually one of my beloved old friends, and tends to get popped into the DVD player on a regular basis. I have no problem with the slightly modern costumes and the feisty, robust Fanny as played by Frances O'Connor. I love the cheeky way that Fanny (both young and older version) looks into the camera to deliver the odd aside. I find the photography breathtaking, the music perfectly wonderful, and most of the main thrusts of the plot are there, even if they have been tinkered with a little bit.
OK, OK, my love of this version may have a teensy weensy bit to do with the fact that a very young Jonny Lee Miller plays Edmund Bertram (albeit with unnaturally red lips, but I won't hold that against him). I mean, look at that face! It's no wonder Fanny fell for him, am I right?
Victoria Hamilton and Justine Waddell are truly wonderful as Maria and Julia - the wicked, selfish cousins who delight in making Fanny feel inferior every chance they get.
And I tip my hat to Hugh Bonneville who captured the idiotic Mr. Rushworth perfectly. And the hair...oh the hair! Teeheeheehee!
Alessandro Nivola made the character of Henry Crawford quite appealing and really helped us feel that Fanny almost got swept away by his very effective courting. Oh, the fireworks and the doves and the flowers! And he seemed so earnest (almost). But Fanny listened to her heart. Good girl, you held out for Jonny- I mean the virtuous vicar Edmund!
The rest of the cast is pretty darn good too, from Lindsay Duncan as both Mrs. Price and Lady Bertram to James Purefoy who is easy on the eyes as Tom Bertram. Sheila Gish is almost as good a Mrs. Norris as the cat in Harry Potter (I love J.K. Rowling for that little gem)! And Sophia Myles was very taking as Susan Price.
However, I can't be the only one creeped out by Harold Pinter's lecherous Sir Thomas Bertram. Ewwwwww! Great acting but a really creepy take on Sir Thomas.
And now we move on to the 2007 Mansfield Park. I am a pretty easy audience when it comes to Jane Austen adaptations but I found this one particularly difficult to love. I think it mostly has to do with the casting of Billie Piper as Fanny Price. Buxom, bleached blonde (with dark brows), she seems to be all teeth and unkempt hair. And they made the young Fanny a bleached blonde with dark brows too!!! Again, she is not the timid, sickly and saintly Fanny of the novel as she tears around the house grinning maniacally. But that would be the fault of the script. I suppose Billie Piper is a good actress, she just didn't make me care for her Fanny.
Now, apart from the casting of the main character, let's begin with the good points of this adaptation. There is some fabulous acting, starting with a very heartfelt performance from Blake Ritson as Edmund (OK, apart from the delivery of the line "I have always loved...this room!"- groan).
The performance of Hayley Atwell as Mary Crawford was really very good. I always love Hayley Atwell in whatever she is in, and she delivered again here. Unfortunately Joseph Beattie was a bit dull as Henry Crawford. He just didn't do it for me after the brilliant sex appeal of Alessandro Nivola's Henry Crawford. Sorry!
James D'Arcy was very good in the role of the heir to Mansfield Park, Tom Bertram. He is a great actor, but I believe James Purefoy has the edge in a Tom Bertram smackdown. However as for the actors who played Maria and Julia Bertram and Mr. Rushworth, I cannot even be bothered to look up their names. Enough said.
I do have to give a shout out to Joseph Morgan the actor who plays Fanny's elder brother William Price. I really missed his character in the 1999 version and he is everything I pictured him to be. Adorable, actually, even though they made him dance the hornpipe on the lawn of Mansfield Park. Actually there was altogether too much outdoor dancing in this adaptation. I can't help but think that it was cheaper to film out of doors. Pity!
Mrs. Norris as played by Maggie O'Neill was just OK. But I really kind of liked Jemma Redgrave's take on Lady Bertram. Lindsay Duncan's drug addled Lady Bertram in 1999 was a bit too indolent (her pathetic and slatternly Mrs. Price was much better). Although it was a departure from the novel, Jemma Redgrave gave Lady Bertram a sweetness and prescience that was refreshing, although not perhaps what the author intended. It may be my affection for Jemma Redgrave as Bramwell which is disposing me kindly to her acting here.
I liked Douglas Hodge's version of Sir Thomas. He is a bit bombastic and mean to poor Fanny, although I suppose that is the character as written. I will say that I liked Douglas Hodge better in both The Way We Live Now and Middlemarch, but that is probably partly due to the script here. I mean, leaving Fanny on her own to skip around the Great House (instead of sending her back to Portsmouth) is hardly a punishment for refusing Henry Crawford. It was rather a treat for her to be away from all those who normally mistreated or took her for granted.
Hey, I just realized that there is a haha in the photo above! (LOL or hahahaha!)
Anyway, I guess this version is OK. Meh! But we still need a really good film adaptation (preferably miniseries in length) of Mansfield Park. Or is this book truly unfilmable? I don't think it is. All it needs is the right screenplay (come on Andrew Davies or Sandy Welch) and some money and good direction and casting behind it.
But the real question is can they leave the character of Fanny Price as it was written by Jane Austen or does she need to be livened up a bit for the modern audience? Please discuss in the comments below. I look forward to your views!