Friday, December 4, 2009

Mansfield Mashup

So a while back I did this to Emma and now I intend to commit the same folly with Mansfield Park. Before I do, however, it is imperative that I rant and rave for a moment. There are three adaptations of this most misunderstood of Jane Austen's novels, only one of which I find satisfying: the 1983 BBC mini-series. The two more recent adaptations, the 1999 Hollywood version, courtesy of the Weinstein brothers, and the 2008 TV version both offend me, in different ways. I believe the latter to be somewhat hampered by budget (not a problem for the Weinsteins), hence no ball room and no trip to Portsmouth. Even a hair dresser was apparently too expensive. Nevertheless, both films have something in common - what I can only describe as a hatred for Fanny Price as Austen created her. I understand that many over the years have maligned this character as dull and priggish but does that give those adapting a masterpiece of literature the right to completely alter the very essence of the main character? I do not think so. Let me state clearly that Fanny Price is a timid young woman, totally unlikely to run, skip, and jump in the hoydenish manner she has been shown doing in film. She also has not a jot of wit. That being said, I will (largely) refrain from further explicit commentary and let my selections speak for themselves.

Fanny Price - As indicated by my above comments, I have to pick Sylvestra Le Touzel from the 1983 version as she is the only actress who actually plays the character I know as Fanny Price. She captures all the appropriate timidity, affection, and sensibility of the character. If I think she looks better before she is supposed to have blossomed (that emergence being indicated in this film by the addition of curls to her coiffure) it is a moot point.

Edmund Bertram - I have a bias towards Blake Ritson, who I consider the indisputable shinning star of the 2008 version. He is certainly the most handsome actor to have played Edmund, which doesn't hurt, plus he's incredibly talented. His portrayal of Edmund has all the appropriate seriousness while also capturing the character's innate naivety.

Aunt Norris - I love Anna Massey in this role from the '83 version! She busily bustles about, totally unaware of her own meanness, exactly as Austen intended. It certainly helps that almost all of her dialogue from the book is in tact. Aunt Norris is a character I find rather fascinating - Austen makes her both despicable and rather hilarious simultaneously, no small feat. Ms. Massey is the only portrayer of the role who has captured both aspects of her personality.

Lady Bertram - Angela Pleasence ('83 again) is the ultimate Lady Bertram. I laugh rather hysterically every time I watch her in the role. The voice she uses, so insipidly languid, is perfection. She is my favorite character in this film, achieving what the best film portrayals do: adding depth to a character while remaining true to its essence.

Sir Thomas Bertram - I have to choose Bernard Hepton of the '83 adaptation because, as is the case with Fanny, his is the only portrayal of the real Sir Thomas. He is a very complex character and, while he largely fails as a patriarch, he is the most effective father in all of Austen. Yes, he can be tyrannical, but he always acts with the best interest of his family at heart. Mr. Hepton, wonderful actor that he is, aptly captures Sir Thomas' struggle. I cannot control myself - I must add that Harold Pinter's portrayal in '99 leaves me sick with fury.

Mary Crawford - This was a hard call as all the portrayals of Mary are rather good, each in their own way, but again I go back to the '83 version. Jackie Smith-Wood is the only actress who manages to capture the softer aspects of the role. Mary might have a multitude of worldly faults but she truly cares for Fanny and Edmund. The more recent adaptations only convey her mercenary side, to the neglect of her affections. The result is that she comes off too cold, lacking in the playfulness inherent to the character. I wish I could find a picture that did justice to Ms. Smith-Wood but this is the best I could do.

Henry Crawford - This is not turning into much of a mashup as I again select a member of the '83 cast. Robert Burbage is an excellent Henry, smug and charming, with none of the unseemly intensity of emotion that marks the later portrayals. He has a sparkle to his eyes that aptly bespeaks the mischief he pursues. Also, for those who have been paying attention, I like both my Austen heroes and villains alike to be dark and Mr. Burbage is the only Henry to fulfill that qualification. What else can I do? Another terrible picture, unfortunately.

Maria Bertram - I really enjoyed Michelle Ryan as Maria in the '08 adaptation (in spite of the silly, lank locks that hang by her ears throughout the majority of the film). She brings an appropriate sauciness to the role and has all the beauty one could want in a Maria Bertram. That's a rather devilish hat she's wearing, isn't it? Her riding habit is my favorite costume in the film.

Tom Bertram - OK. So I really just like his last name, but James D'Arcy ('08) does do an admirable job as Tom. The kind of hyperactivity he portrays is very appropriate to the character. He is every inch the young man about town.

Julia Bertram - I love Justine Waddell ('99) in this role, mostly because I think she's a wonderful actress and is much better to look at than my two other options (she's actually probably too pretty, out shinning Victoria Hamilton as Maria). Her portrayal of Laura Fairlie in the '97 version of The Woman in White still haunts me.

Mr. Rushworth - This is another difficult call, all the actors who have portrayed Mr. Rushworth having done so admirably, but I have to say Hugh Bonneville of the 1999 adaptation. Honestly, he just looks the most like Mr. Rushworth to me: fat, happy, and silly.

Mr. Yates - I cannot find a picture of him but Allan Hendrick in the 1983 version is the ultimate Mr. Yates. He doesn't have a lot of competition as the character is not included in the '08 version and Charles Edwards portrayal is merely that of an amiable young man, totally lacking in the affectation and pomposity required of Mr. Yates. I do wish I had a picture; his hair is marvelous.

William Price - Again there is a shortage of options here as William is totally absent from the '99 plot. I choose Joseph Morgan ('08) because he both looks the part and has all the animation of character with which Austen endowed him. I love it when he reenacts a naval battle at the dinner table using a spoon and a salt shaker.

Susan Price - Only two options again. This time it was the '08 version that deemed a character expendable (apparently Fanny can only have one sibling at a time). Though I really enjoyed Eryl Maynard's portrayal of this character in the '83 version, so exactly like the book, I choose Sophia Myles because she thoroughly charmed me and I choose to indulge my prejudices. She lacks the brashness the character has when we first meet her so I must think of her more as the lady Susan becomes rather than as a product of the Price household.

Mrs. Price - Lindsay Duncan played both Lady Bertram and Mrs. Price in the '99 adaptation but I can only find pictures of her in the former role. As Mrs. Price she is so raw, weary, and weather beaten that it's quite heart breaking. Perhaps she is too aware of the miseries of her situation, when compared with the book, but that does not prevent her from being the image I see whenever I reread it, a true sign of a successful portrayal.

Mr. Price - I like David Buck in the 1983 version. He is utterly disgusting.

I shall end by embedding a clip from the 1983 version, encompassing the dinner party at the Grants (who I chose not to include in my lineup as this is the only version that includes them) and the scenes in which both Mary and Edmund give Fanny chains for her cross. I provide it mostly so you can get a better view of the Crawfords than those miserable pictures above, but it also has most of my favorites in action.


  1. Mary Crawford - The problem with the Crawfords is that screenwriters like to "redeem" their characters. So, while I like Embeth Davidtz and Haley Atwell very much as actresses, I hated the way the films made them heroine figures.

    Henry Crawford - Alessandro Nivola - another excellent actor, sadly given a crummy script. The new Henry was not handsome and dashing enough to make me believe in her at all.

    Maria Bertram - I like both Victoria Hamilton and Michelle Ryan from other projects - and both were adequate as Maria. However, I have a soft spot for Ryan because when my 12 year old brother and I watched the film on PBS, I kept calling her "Robot Chick" because Ryan had just premiered as the Bionic Woman on NBC (terrible show - similar to the terrible MP adaptation). We both got giggles from that.

    Tom Bertram - James D'arcy is quite good - and infinitely better than the dude who played him in the 99 - when they make him some kind of romantic artist who serves as the Bertram conscience...yeah, made no sense.

    Julia Bertram - I'd go with Justine Waddell too, though also mostly from loyalty to previous roles (in my case, Wives and Daughters' Molly Gibson).

    Mr. Rushworth - Hugh Bonneville - quite excellent, especially when you consider that he had previously done a young semi-fop in Sherlock Holmes (the episode was The Dying Detective, in which he guest starred opposite the lovely Susannah Harker, in the Jeremy Brett/Edward Hardwicke/Granada/ITV production - well worth checking out), and went on to be an absolutely appallingly vicious rake in Daniel Deronda (opposite the gorgeous Romola Garai!), and sensative kindly older men in Lost in Austen (bleh) and Miss Austen Regrets (also bleh, despite fine cast).

    Mr. Yates - Don't remember any of the actors playing him.

    William Price - I have to say, if they hadn't had him jig in that idiotic picnic, I probably wouldn't mind the newest William. But I really don't like him in that one.

    Susan Price - Sophia Myles is quite good - but really, Susan in the 99 film (like almost all the characters) was absolutely infuriatingly idiotic.

    Mrs. Price - the book.

    Mr. Price - the book.

    So, all in all, I really, really don't have a "dream cast" of previous MP actors. Other than Edmund, I rather hate most of the actors in their roles (script, not acting problems, as I like the actors very much in other roles).

    And I think my ideal Fanny would be (currently) Claire Foy, Felicity Jones, Emily Blunt (though she's rather tall), maybe Carey Mulligan, and maybe Bryce Dallas Howard. I think Claire Foy definitely tops the list, though. It's funny how there have been Fanny-like heroines in recent adaptations - Esther Summerson (Anna Maxwell Martin) in Bleak House, Amy Dorrit (Claire Foy), Elinor Dashwood (Hattie Morahan) in S&S, and Molly Gibson (Justine Waddell) in Wives and Daughters, all of which have been very popular - but when it comes to adapting Mansfield Park, they just can't deal with it.

  2. Well, since I adore Mansfield Park and Fanny Price with a passion, I have to say that the two recent films are horrifying, and the 83 one has fine actors, but I feel they're miscast. I find that I am much happier just reading the book on this one.

    Fanny Price - I love LeTouzel in Northanger Abbey and Amazing Grace, but she just isn't my Fanny (visually). My Fanny is delicately beautiful, very very thin, and very quiet (thin not because I endorse anorexia, but because I don't think Fanny ever has much appetite or strength). I think, if I were casting the film, I would go for Claire Foy or Felicity Jones.

    Edmund Bertram - actually the only character who I think got good casting every time - Nicholas Farrell (one of my favorite actors), Jonny Lee Miller, and Blake Ritson are all very excellent actors whom I enjoy quite a bit, and of the two I've seen, Edmund tends to be the least distorted of the characters.

    Aunt Norris - I disagree that Aunt Norris is unaware of her cruelty - she has always struck me as a portrait of a gleeful sadist, and I can never laugh at her. It's probably because I love Fanny so intensely, but Norris' cruelty to her, who has never done her any wrong and never would, blinds me to any possible humor in the character. And the two films I've seen downgrade her so she's just another female under male domination - disregarding the fact that Jane Austen made her one of the most vicious character known to literature.

    Lady Bertram - I'd have to go with Lindsay Duncan, though the drug subplot was silly (like most of that movie). The new Lady Bertram was very active and aware, and had a loving relationship with Sir Thomas, which I thought was just bizzare.

    Sir Thomas Bertram - I love Bernard Hepton, and I wouldn't mind seeing his take on Sir Thomas. However, I think Harold Pinter was excellent as Sir Thomas - if you excise the gratuitous male-bashing that Rozema heaps on in the script. When Sir Thomas actually says and does the things he says and does in the book (as in the wonderful scene with Maria and her insistence on marrying Rushworth), he's fantastic. The new Sir Thomas was just an inferior actor, I felt. Very overplayed.

  3. You should definitely watch the '83 series. Like all the older BBC adaptations, it's long and somewhat slow but adheres beautifully to the book. Of these classic Austen adaptations, I think Mansfield Park is by far the best. I watch it about twice a year and it always leaves me happy. These newer versions are really rather horrifying.

    I agree that Harold Pinter is a great actor (with an even greater name) but the character he is playing is not Sir Thomas. That book of sketches that the artsy Tom (a truly ridiculous portrayal, I totally agree with you there) makes me want to vomit.

    I also agree that Fanny should be rather small and frail. Sylvestra Le Touzel doesn't look like Fanny but she does do justice to her spirit.

    Not sure I agree that Mary Crawford received any kind of redemption in the newer adaptations. In both she is thoroughly mercenary and unfeeling.

    Regarding Aunt Norris, I am not saying that she thinks she's being kind to Fanny but I do not believe she has the sensibility to understand how cruel she is. She is a woman who has nothing to show for in life other than her relationship to the Bertrams and she guards her position at Mansfield zealously. Her own concerns are her entire world - she might strive to assist Sir Thomas but only because it adds to her consequence. She is too selfish to feel what she does to Fanny.

    Why do I keep finding myself in the position of defending this horrid woman? Apparently, though I always thought I despised her appropriately, I've actually been rather easy on her. Try this one on for size - if it weren't for Aunt Norris, Fanny would never have been brought to Mansfield in the first place. Does this warrant any goodwill?

  4. Well, I've absolutely hated every single one of the BBC adaptations from the 80s/70s I've seen (P&P, S&S, and Emma). And for me, it's not how well you follow the book - it's if you have anything to say about it that I think is worthwhile. I know I'm being curmudgeonly, but I really don't want to see it - Mansfield Park is perfect for me as a book, and though I did see the other two, they're so far removed from the book it's like Phillip Pullman's attack on Christianity - it's so ridiculous an accusation I don't feel threatened at all by it. Perhaps one day I will. But for now, I think I'll pass. But you have bumped it up a tad on my "May see someday" list.

    Hmmm, my thought on Mary Crawford is perhaps based on the fact that the "redeemed" view is taken by so many readers and critics, and that both actresses are very personable in other roles and interviews. You're right that they aren't really that nice in the films themselves - my bad.

    See, I'll agree that Aunt Norris sometimes does good unknowingly - but I can't see past her cruelty to Fanny. Even the dullest or meanest spirits see Fanny's value - see how the Crawfords react to her - but Aunt Norris actively seeks to degrade, humiliate, hurt, deny, and otherwise torture her.

    I think there's also the fact that Fanny remains one of my very, very few (I think there are about two or three) fictional crushes. So my defense of her and hatred for her antagonists are a bit more intense a perhaps a bit less rational. A close reading of Aunt Norris next time I reread the novel (a great hardship! ;-) ) might be in order. During the summer, perhaps, as I have 20-30 books I'd like to read over the Christmas vacation. Or maybe I shall attempt it during the semester as a comfort read.

    Oh, and have you seen the new Masterpiece schedule? It looks really exciting!

  5. Way to use the word curmudgeonly! Nicely done. Such a fun word.

    I have seen the Masterpiece lineup but, unfortunately, no longer have TV. It's downloads on the computer for me which, I have to admit, is a bit less exciting. But I will be rewatching Emma in tandem with the broadcast and will have something to say about it here.

    So 3 fictional character crushes you say? I must ask who the third one is (I assume Emma is one). I have only ever suffered from one real crush of the sort - obviously, Mr. Darcy. I do adore Henry Tilney but I don't think it can be called a crush and had a teenage fascination with both Mr. Rochester (grew out of that pretty fast) and Javert from Les Miserable. In the case of the latter (which I acknowledge to be totally bizarre), while it reached obsessive levels, it wasn't really an attraction but an interest in hubris that got to me. Wait a minute! Just thought of one more - Konstantin Dmitrich Levin from Anna Karenina. Now there is a man after my heart. How dared I let him escape my mind? Perhaps too long in Austen land? Oh well.

    I do like a movie that adheres to the book. I get pretty angry (can you tell?) when film makers change the essence of a story. Now those early BBC Asuten adaptations do take this a bit far but there are several film adaptations of Austen that manage to tell the story accurately while bringing in something new and keeping it under 2 hours. I like the Emma adaptations from the 90's as well as Sense and Sensibility. The '05 Pride and Prejudice was nicely done (though it doesn't trump the Davies version and I get really mad when fan fiction is based on this film instead of the book as in one notable series which I will not name here) and Northanger Abbey was quite good. But these Mansfield Park adaptations make me artery clogging furious. You love Fanny - do you agree that only a hatred for her character explains how she has been portrayed in film? When changes such as these are made I feel like Austen has been violated. The book is perfect - I completely agree with you there. What makes people egotistical enough to think they can do it better than she did? This coming from the lady who just rewrote Pride and Prejudice (this is another place where I would use an emoticon if I weren't so uptight).

  6. Yeah! These are fun.

    I kind of like the newest Mansfield Park (really liked Blake Ritson). It was a bit off the book but far better than the 90's version. ibmiller is right - they made Lady Bertram way too with it, especially at the end when she is in matchmaker mode. I have never seen the '72 version but was happy just now, when I went to add it to my Netflix queue, that it's available for instant viewing. I am going to start it now as it is an ugly day outside and will certainly cheer me up.

  7. Please let me know your thought after you finish the series. I find few people still watch these old adaptations, which I am rather fond of. An excellent way to spend a rainy day.

  8. Well, today is a snowy day, not rainy, where I live, and as a transplanted Minnesotan, I naturally went and frolicked about, making snowmen and throwing snowballs off the top of a parking deck...(I have photos on my facebook)

    So I've not been online. But I am now!

    I don't have TV either - but I'm hoping to go over to a friend's house or dorm and share theirs. I want to add to the ratings - show PBS that costume drama and Austen adaptations aren't dying. Looking forward to your Emma thoughts! Even if you do think Miss Bates was creepy in this one ;-)

    Actually, Emma is not one of my fictional crushes - I identify with her too strongly, so it'd be like being in love with myself. No, my fictional crushes are Fanny Price and season 2 Dr. Temperance Brennan from the show Bones. I don't remember if I actually had a third one. And there is never anything wrong with spending time in Austen land - no such thing as too much time there - always the best - never better - only place to go (like my stream of consiousness Miss Bates impression?)

    I do think that the filmmakers hate Fanny - I have heard reports that Rozema said at a conference that she didn't like either Fanny or the book (which really makes me wonder why the heck did she do the film?). And Wadey, in online filmed interviews, actually called Fanny something quite vulgar or profane, since she was bleeped out - I nearly had an aneurysm. Someone who uses such language about Fanny should be shot before getting withing a thousand miles of adapting it. And there's a difference between rewriting it with different circumstances and rewriting just things you don't like. The former I think is curiosity, the latter laziness.

  9. I'm surprised Emma is not one of your crushes. I guess because I also relate strongly with Emma and feel it is why this book is a bit painful for me, I falsely assumed that only those who didn't relate to Emma would adore it to the degree you do. However, this attempt to put such a twisted piece of logic into words has exposed how little sense it makes. Oh well.

    Dr. Brennan, nice. My husband is right there with you on that one.

    Thanks for the information on the filmmaker interviews. There really should be an approval process artists undergo before they are allowed to impose such anger on a beloved piece of literature - something along the lines of a jury selection. Rozema and Wadey would then have been prevented from committing their atrocities (I don't really mean that, being a huge proponent of creative license and freedom of speech). It's obvious Rozema hates the book - if she liked it she would have stuck with it. As for Wadey, I know not what to say. It's just horrifying.

    I cannot understand how anyone could muster hatred for poor, sweet little Fanny. We must live in a world of Aunt Norrises (actually explains a lot) when what we need are more Edmunds. That's my recipe for world peace.

    And yes, I am delighted - quite amusing - so cleverly done - precisely Miss Bates.

  10. World peace by Austen and Bertram - brilliant!

    I think a vetting process would be nice, but I'm not sure who would be doing the vetting, and by what standards. I think Rozema was hired because she was recognized as a "big name" "edgy" "independant" director, and since it was done by Miramax, they wanted to both cash in on the Austen crazy of 95-96 (they'd already made money on the more traditional Emma) and distance themselves from what made those films so popular - faithfulness to Austen's letter and spirit. And oops, audiences didn't respond so well to that...leading to idiot executives saying "Well, obviously people aren't into Austen anymore."

    Then came the Austen craze of 2005-2009.

    Wadey, I think, got MP because she had done moderately successful adaptations for the Beeb (Northanger Abbey, Adam Bede - which I actually liked moderately well, but haven't read the book, so I don't know how it compares), but not mega successful (like, say, Andrew Davies or Sandy Welch), and thus would be pretty cheap (in fact, everything about that show screamed "cheap," since they didn't even have more than one location). Plus, the producer shared Wadey's contempt for the book (though not to the extent of swearing about Fanny on televised interviews). Though, honestly, apart from Davies' Northanger Abbey (which I love, but think is one of his lighter and less serious Austen adaptations) and a few actors in the productions (such as Sally Hawkins), I think ITV's whole "Jane Austen season" was kind of a half-hearted affair. I mean, three 90 minute films? At least Sense and Sensibility and Emma got 3 and 4 hours, respectively. I mean, one of the things about television is that they make up for lower production costs/values and shorter prep and postproduction times by having a longer running time and delving deeper into the world and characters. So I think ITV's tri-drama series really kinda missed the point, not just in Mansfield Park (even though I own NA and Persuasion from that year).

  11. The '08 Mansfield Park screamed cheap. I don't really have any complaints about producing such films on limited budgets but how expensive would it have been to do the characters' hair? A curling iron would have done wonders for Maria and as for Fanny's hair, there is no word for it other than ridiculous. I also would have been happier if they contrived to skip the ball scene all together rather than to having them dancing outside, let alone depicting Fanny and Edmund waltzing on the lawn, in front of all their neighbors!! Fanny waltzing? She who could barely stand the idea of opening a dance!? Now I'm just ranting.

    The only Austen adaptation to make me as angry as the '99 Mansfield Park was the '07 Persuasion. I think I literally jumped up and down while screaming at the TV when Anne started racing through the streets of Bath. My husband thought I had finally lost my mind (it's an event he's been anticipating for a while).

    In my ideal world, all Austen adaptations would run at least six hours. The longer they are, the longer I get to enjoy them. This partially explains my penchant for the old BBC versions.

  12. The behind the scenes vids showed that the budget all went to Fanny's last dress - apparently it cost somewhere like 100 pounds a meter - so the whole thing was just insanely expensive. So they probably fired the choreographer and continuity supervisor and historical advisor and general "make this make sense" person to make up for it.

    See, I don't mind the 07 Persuasion nearly as much as I should. But that's probably a screed that should be saved for an actual Persuasion post.

    I too love a good, long Austen adaptation - but I feel the old BBC films have such bad casting, directing, limp scripts and horrible music that I get distracted. And I don't think it's length - after all, I adore Bleak House and Little Dorrit, which both run about 8 hours each.

  13. Hi Alexa - I watched most of Mansfield yeaterday but had to wait until this afternoon to finish it. I liked it, I think. Definitely enjoyed Angela Pleasance. She was fabulous. It just moved a bit slowly to keep me interested. Not super thrilled with Edmund either but you were dead on about Mr. Yates - what a terribly pompous do! It was perfect.

  14. ibmiller - They blew all the budget on her wedding dress!!!! What a bunch of idiots! I'm more offended by the adaptation than ever as it is now exposed as nothing more than an exercise in self indulgence. Austen would be appalled (have you ever read about the extreme practicality of her mother's wedding dress?).

    Megan - I'm glad you (sort of) enjoyed it. I know these versions are not everyone's cup of tea (see ibmiller's list of complaints above) but I have a great fondness for them. As Meredith on Austenesque Reviews has pointed out, the entire collection can currently be purchased for only $30! It's high up on my Christmas list.