Mansfield Park (film)

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Mansfield Park
Mansfield park.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Patricia Rozema
Produced by Sarah Curtis
Screenplay by Patricia Rozema
Based on Mansfield Park 
by Jane Austen
Starring Frances O'Connor
Jonny Lee Miller
James Purefoy
Music by Lesley Barber
Cinematography Michael Coulter
Editing by Martin Walsh
Studio HAL Films
Distributed by Miramax Films (US)
BVI (UK)
Release dates
  • 19 November 1999 (1999-11-19) (US)
  • 3 March 2000 (2000-03-03) (UK)
  • 20 April 2000 (2000-04-20) (AUS)
  • 10 August 2000 (2000-08-10) (NZ)
Running time 112 minutes
Country United Kingdom
Language English
Box office $4,775,847[1]

Mansfield Park is a 1999 British romantic comedy-drama film loosely based on Jane Austen's novel of the same name, written and directed by Patricia Rozema. The film differs sharply from the original novel in many respects. For example, the life of Jane Austen is incorporated into the film and the issues of slavery and plantations as well. The majority of the film was made at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire.

Plot[edit]

The film tells the story of Fanny Price, whose mother, Mrs Price, married a relatively poor man for love and whose father cannot afford to support his large family. At the age of 10, Fanny is sent to live with her wealthy relatives, the Bertram family: Sir Thomas, Lady Bertram (Fanny's aunt), their four children (Tom, Maria Bertram, Edmund, Julia) and Fanny's other maternal aunt, Mrs Norris, at Mansfield Park. Fanny's arrival is less than welcoming and it is made clear that she is to be treated differently from her cousins. Mrs. Norris treats her more like a servant than a relative. As the separation from her own family begins to overwhelm her, and she is told that she is expected to stay at Mansfield indefinitely, Fanny is distressed. Her young cousin Edmund Bertram behaves kindly to her, and the two develop a friendship that grows as the years progress.

When Fanny is eighteen, her uncle, Sir Thomas, travels to Antigua to deal with some problems there concerning his slaves. The abolitionists are making inroads into freeing slaves, and the Bertram family is feeling the financial effects. Sir Thomas departs, taking the eldest son, Tom, with him.

In Sir Thomas' absence, the Bertram family life is disrupted by the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, relatives of the local clergyman. Mary and Henry are worldly, cynical and beautiful – and are looking for amusement. Edmund is instantly smitten with Mary, and devotes much of his time and attention to her, somewhat ignoring and hurting Fanny.

Maria and Julia Bertram both vie for Henry Crawford's affections, even though Maria is already engaged to the rich, but stupid, Mr. Rushworth. Mr. Crawford is shamelessly flirtatious with Maria.

Tom returns from Antigua, arriving drunk and bringing a friend, Mr. Yates, with him. Yates and Tom convince the Bertrams and Crawfords to stage a risque play, Lovers' Vows. The play is a pretext that allows the young people to openly flirt with each other. Edmund is initially vocally against the play, but soon changes his mind when he is offered a part that allows him to act out flirtatious scenes with Mary Crawford.

Just as things seem to be getting out of control, with Maria openly flirting with Henry Crawford in front of her bumbling fiancé Rushworth, Sir Thomas arrives home. He is furious and immediately stops the play. Maria rushes into a marriage with Mr Rushworth – whom she does not love or respect, but whose money and house in London she wants – and leaves for Brighton, taking Julia with her. Henry Crawford, deprived of Maria, decides to pursue Fanny as a means to amuse himself. However, Fanny's gentle and kind nature captures his fancy, and Mr. Crawford finds himself emotionally attached to her. After his behaviour towards the Bertram girls, Fanny is disgusted by and distrusts Henry and does not believe his declarations of love. Even so, Henry asks Sir Thomas for Fanny's hand in marriage and she is pressured by her uncle to accept the advantageous offer. Fanny surprises and disappoints the Bertrams when she refuses.

Angry and perplexed at her refusal, Sir Thomas gives Fanny an ultimatum – accept Henry's proposal of marriage or be sent back to her relatively poor family and experience the difference in comfort. Fanny looks to Edmund for support, but his apparent indifference forces her to choose the latter.

At home, she is reunited with her younger sister Susie, with whom she had been corresponding since she arrived at Mansfield. Several days after her return, Henry Crawford pays a visit, trying to convince Fanny that his affections for her are genuine and his intentions true. Although she looks more favorably on him, Fanny continues to cling to her feelings for Edmund and still rejects Crawford. Only when a letter from Edmund arrives which discloses his hopes of marrying Mary Crawford – he writes that Mary is the only woman he can see as his wife – does Fanny seriously consider Henry Crawford's offer. Finally, she concedes and accepts his proposal. However, Fanny realizes she does not trust Crawford, and takes back her acceptance the next day. Henry is exceedingly hurt and angry, storming away, and leaves Portsmouth.

The next day, Edmund arrives to fetch Fanny and take her back to Mansfield to help tend to Tom, who has fallen seriously ill and is near death. During the carriage ride, Edmund confesses he has missed Fanny, and she him, but Edmund hesitates to elaborate further because of his attachment to Mary Crawford.

After her return to Mansfield Park, both the Crawfords and the Bertram sisters arrive. The now-married Maria rebukes Henry for trifling with her affections and then pursuing Fanny. Henry gains her pity when Maria learns of Fanny's refusal of his marriage proposal and together they succumb to their lust. Their indiscretion is discovered by Fanny when she accidentally walks in on them late one night while attending Tom, and she runs to Edmund. But Fanny's inability to tell him of the affair leads Edmund to investigate for himself and witness his sister's adultery. Edmund returns to comfort Fanny and, caught up in the moment, nearly kisses her, but he remembers himself and pulls away.

News of the scandal spreads rapidly and Mary Crawford quickly devises a plan to stifle the repercussions. Miss Crawford suggests that after Maria's divorce, Maria would marry Henry and Edmund would marry Mary and together they might re-introduce Henry and Maria back into society. Fanny questions Mary as to how a clergyman could afford lavish parties, and Mary shocks everyone by stating that when Tom dies, Edmund will be heir to the family's fortune. Mary lays blame on Fanny, reasoning that had she married Henry, he would not have been tempted by Maria. Edmund is appalled and tells Mary that cheerfully condemning Tom to death whilst she plans to spend his money sends a chill to his heart. Having betrayed her true nature to the Bertram family, Mary, shamed, leaves the Bertram's company.

Edmund ultimately declares his love for Fanny, and they eventually marry. Sir Thomas gives up his plantation in Antigua and invests instead in tobacco. Tom recovers from his illness while Julia receives a love letter from Tom's friend, Mr. Yates. Fanny also mentions that her sister Susie had joined them at the Bertram household whilst Maria, whom Henry refused to marry, and crabby Aunt Norris were forced to keep each other company by taking up residence in a small cottage removed from Mansfield Park. And as for the Crawford siblings, they have each found themselves "respectable" partners who agree with their particular lifestyle.

Cast[edit]

Differences from novel[edit]

The film differs from the Jane Austen novel Mansfield Park in numerous and significant ways. The film changes some central characters, eliminates several others, and reorganizes certain events, not all of which are merely to tighten the plot. The end result is a film that retains some of the core character evolution and series of events of Jane Austen's novel, but in other ways functions only as a loose adaptation. The plot changes the moral message of Austen's novel, and makes the story a critique of slavery rather than a conservative critique of the "modern"; in the novel Fanny's passivity and moral stance are seen as virtues but these aspects of her character are missing from the film, except during the staging of Lovers' Vows, from which she abstains.

Slavery[edit]

Austen's novel mentions slavery on several occasions but does not elaborate on it. Most notably, in the novel, Fanny asks a question about the slave trade to Sir Thomas and is not answered. The film includes slavery as a central plot point, including explicit descriptions of the treatment of slaves (e.g. Fanny finds violent drawings of the treatment of slaves in Tom's room); numerous reminders of how Bertram family owes its wealth to slavery, as well as England's role in the slave trade.

The role and influence of slavery in the world of Mansfield Park is emphasized from the start of the film. Fanny sees a slave ship on her initial journey to the family, asks her coachman about it and receives an explanation. A parallel is drawn between Fanny's role as a woman and a poor relative in the Bertram family, and the role of slaves.

Tom Bertram's return from Antigua is motivated by his disgust with what he has seen there, and this disgust is reinforced by a journal that Fanny finds at Mansfield Park showing apparently criminal events occurring in Antigua that involve Sir Thomas.

At the end of the film a voiceover also informs the viewer that Sir Thomas has divested from his estates in Antigua, presumably as a form of redemption.

The character of Fanny Price[edit]

The character of Fanny is significantly different in the film. In the novel, Fanny is very shy and timid, and not accustomed to giving her own opinion. Her physical condition is frail, making her tire easily. In the film, in contrast, Fanny is extroverted, self-confident, and outspoken, while also being physically healthier. In addition, the film version of Fanny is portrayed as a writer from her childhood into her adulthood at Mansfield Park. These character traits are incorporated directly from the life of Jane Austen – some of Fanny's writings were written by Austen including the "History of England".

Other character changes[edit]

The film dispenses entirely with several characters, whilst changing the roles and character traits of others. The parson, Dr. Grant, and his wife and the Crawfords' half-sister, Mrs. Grant, do not feature in the film, nor does Fanny's Royal Navy brother William. Her close relationship with William in the book is replaced in the film by her relationship with her younger sister Susan, with whom in the novel, Fanny does not develop a relationship until her return to Portsmouth.

Plot changes[edit]

Fanny's banishment to Portsmouth is characterized as a punishment by a vengeful Sir Thomas rather than as a respite from stress following Henry Crawford's unwelcome attentions. In the novel, Fanny is never tempted to accept Mr. Crawford's proposals, whereas in the film, Fanny accepts, then repudiates, Henry Crawford's offer of marriage, and her family has full knowledge of it. (Presumably this is taken from events in the life of Jane Austen, who accepted a proposal of marriage from a man she had known since childhood, and then retracted her acceptance a day later.)

In the novel, Fanny remains at Portsmouth for several months, whereas in the film she returns to Mansfield Park much earlier in order to nurse Tom Bertram back to health. This makes her witness to the events that follow. In the film, Maria's adulterous liaison with Mr. Crawford occurs at Mansfield Park instead of in London; in the novel, Maria leaves her husband's house to run away with Crawford.

In the novel, the revelations of Maria's adulterous affair including Mary's casual attitude about it, occur through letters (including from Mary to Fanny); in the film the affair is carried on at Mansfield Park in full view of the family.

In the novel, the shock to the Mansfield family is increased by Julia Bertram's elopement with Mr. Yates; in the film Julia remains at home, receiving a love letter from Yates at the end of the film, instead of eloping with Mr. Yates.

Reception[edit]

Mansfield Park has received generally favorable reviews from critics. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 76% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 68 reviews, with an average score of 6.9/10.[2] On Metacritic, which assigns a normalized rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 71 based on 31 reviews.[3]

Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times gave it a four-star review, saying, "This is an uncommonly intelligent film, smart and amusing too, and anyone who thinks it is not faithful to Austen doesn't know the author but only her plots."[4] Owen Gleiberman of Entertainment Weekly also gave the film a positive review, dubbing it as "a handsome and forceful piece of work" and praising O'Connor's ability to display the "quiet battle of emotions in Fanny."[5]

Andrew Johnston (critic) of Time Out New York wrote: "Grafting incidents gleaned from Jane Austen's journals and letters onto the story of the author's third novel, Rozema captures the writer's combination of prickly wit and hopeless romanticism as few filmmakers have. ... You may be able to see Mansfield Park 's ending coming from a mile away, but it's so beautifully constructed and dramatically satisfying when it arrives that you probably won't mind at all."[6]

References[edit]

  1. ^ "Mansfield Park (1999) – Box Office Mojo". Box Office Mojo. IMDB. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  2. ^ "Mansfield Park (1999)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  3. ^ "Mansfield Park Reviews - Metacritic". Metacritic. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  4. ^ Ebert, Roger (24 November 1999). "Mansfield Park Movie Review & Film Summary (1999)". Chicago Sun-Times. Sun-Times Media Group. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  5. ^ Gleiberman, Owen (19 November 1999). "Movie Review: Mansfield Park (1999)". Entertainment Weekly. CNN. Retrieved 23 December 2013. 
  6. ^ Time Out New York, November 18-25, 1999, p. 121.

External links[edit]