Mansfield Park (2008)


When Jane Austen penned her six classics, she never realized audiences would still be devouring them centuries later. Mansfield Park is the most recent in a slew of ITV productions of her works and like the others in the series, feels a bit contrived at times but nevertheless manages to be entertaining. It is also much cleaner than the Hollywood production by the same name.


Due to her family's financial difficulties, the child Fanny Price is sent to live with her aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram (Douglas Hodge, Jemma Redgrave). Ignored for the most part by her rambunctious cousins, her only friend is found in the attentive and caring Edmund. Over the years their friendship grows but is tested when the Crawfords move into the district. Fanny (Billie Piper) remains obscure in the background of most of the family affairs, but her interest and disapproval is peaked when Edmund (Blake Ritson) begins to show an affection toward the mercenary Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell). His ambition is to be a minister, but her plans for him are much more grand. In the meantime, her elder and mischievous brother Henry (Joseph Beattie) determines it would be great fun to toy with Fanny's heart, while flirting with the attentions of her engaged cousin, Maria (Michelle Ryan).


While Sir Thomas is away, his eldest son Tom (James D'Arcy) decides it would be amusing to put on a play for the locals. His choice of material is somewhat scandalous and Fanny fears what might transpire if they are found out, but is forced to let things unfold as they will, with the progression of a bit of scandal, one or two broken hearts, and the customary happy ending. Mansfield Park is an interesting novel with somewhat demure characters. It is not the strongest of Austen's works by any means, but does have some truly wonderful moments and most of them are captured here. Unfortunately, from a costume drama standpoint, while the gowns are all gorgeous and the acting is appropriate, there are one or two things that seem out of character and could have done with a bit of grooming. One is Billie Piper, who was added to the cast simply for her European popularity. I don't dislike Piper by any means, but she does feel somewhat out of place in period costume, and her acting is awkward in this kind of a role.


There is not much going on behind her eyes, which is what Fanny needs in order for the audience to sense her emotional anguish over Edmund's preference for Mary. The second thing is that the filmmakers could have made her look more period and chose not to, by putting up her hair or giving her hair extensions. That Fanny's hair would be shoulder length is doubtful. That may be nitpicking on a colossal scale, because the film is quite respectable otherwise. There is nothing to prevent it from being acceptable family viewing. Mentions are made of a scandal in which a married woman left her husband to run away with another man, but their affair is never glorified or even shown in anything but a dishonorable light. There may be one or two mild profanities, and some cleavage. It's an enjoyable romp that should not be taken too seriously, but does suffer a little from its limited scope. Almost the entire film takes place in one or two locations, but fortunately the audience will not mind, because it is captivating enough to forgive its minor faults.

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