Mansfield Park (1999 film)
Mansfield Park is a 1999 British romantic comedy-drama film based on Jane Austen's 1814 novel of the same name, written and directed by Patricia Rozema. The film departs from the original novel in several respects. For example, the life of Jane Austen is incorporated into the film, as are the issues of slavery and plantation life. The majority of the film was filmed on location at Kirby Hall in Northamptonshire.
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Patricia Rozema|
|Produced by||Sarah Curtis|
|Screenplay by||Patricia Rozema|
|Based on||Mansfield Park|
by Jane Austen
|Music by||Lesley Barber|
|Edited by||Martin Walsh|
|Distributed by||Buena Vista International|
At the age of 10, Fanny Price is sent to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, as her own parents do not have enough money to support their many children. Once at Mansfield Park, Fanny meets her cousins Tom, Maria, Edmund, and Julia, as well as Fanny's other maternal aunt, Mrs Norris. Fanny does not feel welcome, and Mrs Norris treats her more like a servant than a relative. Edmund behaves kindly to her, and the two develop a friendship that grows as the years progress.
When Fanny is eighteen, Sir Thomas and his eldest son Tom travel to Antigua. In their absence, the Bertram family is disrupted by the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, relatives of the local clergyman. Worldly, cynical and beautiful, Mary and Henry arrive looking for amusement. Edmund is instantly smitten with Mary, somewhat ignoring and hurting Fanny. Maria and Julia both vie for Henry's affections, even though Maria is already engaged to Mr Rushworth. Henry shamelessly flirts with Maria. Later, 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 allows the young people to openly flirt with each other. Edmund initially speaks out against the play but changes his mind when he is offered a part that allows him to act out flirtatious scenes with Mary. Sir Thomas arrives home and in anger immediately stops the play.
Maria marries Rushworth, esteeming his fortune above his character. Henry decides to pursue Fanny as a means to amuse himself. However, Fanny's gentle and kind nature gradually captures his fancy, and Henry becomes emotionally attached to her. After his behaviour towards the Bertram girls, Fanny mistrusts him and does not believe his declarations of love. Even so, Henry proposes and Fanny is pressured by her uncle to accept the offer; she disappoints the family by refusing. Angry, Sir Thomas gives Fanny an ultimatum: accept Henry's proposal of marriage or be sent back to her poor family and experience the difference in comfort. Fanny looks to Edmund for support, but his indifference forces her to choose the latter. Several days after her return home, Henry pays a visit to convince Fanny that his affections for her are genuine. Although she looks more favourably on him, Fanny continues to cling to her feelings for Edmund and rejects Henry. Only when a letter from Edmund arrives which discloses his hopes of marrying Mary does Fanny accept Henry's offer. However, Fanny realizes she does not trust him, and takes back her acceptance the next day. Henry leaves, exceedingly hurt and angry. Edmund arrives to take Fanny back to Mansfield Park to help care for Tom, who has fallen seriously ill and is near death. Edmund confesses he has missed Fanny.
Henry gains Maria's pity when she learns of Fanny's refusal of his marriage proposal, and they are found having sex by Fanny and Edmund. Shocked, Fanny is comforted by Edmund and the two nearly kiss, but Edmund pulls away. News of the scandal spreads rapidly and Mary quickly devises a plan to stifle the repercussions. She suggests that after a divorce, Maria would marry Henry while Edmund would marry Mary; together they might re-introduce Henry and Maria back into society by throwing parties. 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. 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 leaves the Bertrams' company. Edmund ultimately declares his love for Fanny, and they marry. Sir Thomas gives up his plantation in Antigua and invests instead in tobacco, while Tom recovers from his illness. Fanny's sister Susie joins them at the Bertram household while Maria and Aunt Norris take up residence in a small cottage removed from Mansfield Park.
- Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price
- Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram
- James Purefoy as Thomas Bertram Jr.
- Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford
- Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford
- Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram Sr.
- Lindsay Duncan as Lady Bertram / Mrs Price
- Victoria Hamilton as Maria Bertram
- Justine Waddell as Julia Bertram
- Hugh Bonneville as Mr Rushworth
- Sheila Gish as Mrs Norris
- Charles Edwards as Mr Yates
- Hilton McRae as Mr Price
- Sophia Myles as Susan Price
- Anna Popplewell as Betsey
- Hannah Taylor-Gordon as Young Fanny
Differences from novelEdit
David Monaghan argues that viewers should approach Rozema's Mansfield Park as ‘an independent work of art rather than an adaptation of Austen’s novel’. Rozema set out her goal firmly, saying that Mansfield Park was not a Jane Austen film: ‘It’s a Patricia Rozema film. My job as an artist is to provide a fresh view.’ Paula Byrne commends Rozema for an audacious film "that eschews the heritage-style whimsy of the conventional period drama". She argues that in its deployment of feminist, gender and post-colonial themes, it recognises the contribution of more recent academic literary criticism of Austen's works, and "provides a fascinating shadow story to this most complex of novels".
The film differs from the Jane Austen novel Mansfield Park in several ways. The film changes some central characters, eliminates several others, and reorganises certain events. The result is a film that retains the core of character evolution and events of Austen's novel, but in other ways, stresses its themes and ideas differently. The plot changes the moral message of Austen's novel, making the story a critique of slavery rather than, as some critics understand it, a conservative critique. While in the novel Fanny's passivity and moral stance are represented as virtues, these aspects of her character are altered in the film. The exception is in the staging of Lovers' Vows when Fanny abstains.
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 near the coast on her initial journey to the family, asks her coachman about it and receives an explanation.
The Australian historian Keith Windschuttle criticised Rozema for adding in this scene, not in the book, stating Fanny hears terrible cries from a ship off the coast and is told it is a slave ship bringing in its human cargo to Portsmouth. Windschuttle notes that slaves were never brought to British shores. The essence of the Triangular trade was that after the ships had transported the slaves from Africa to the Caribbean, they would return to Britain loaded only with sugar and tobacco. Then, leaving Britain, they would return to Africa, loaded with manufactured goods. 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 recounting apparently criminal events occurring in Antigua that involve Sir Thomas.
At the end of the film a voice-over also informs the viewer that Sir Thomas has divested himself of his estates in Antigua, presumably as a form of redemption.
The character of Fanny PriceEdit
Rozema employs "a collage or prismatic-like approach" in her adaptation of Fanny's character, incorporating elements of Jane Austen's character in order to update the "annoying" character for a contemporary audience. Rozema's modification of the character of Fanny Price, whom she considered an unpopular heroine, was to add colour and spirit by conflating her with the character of Austen herself, drawing upon her extensive juvenilia and letters. In the novel, Fanny is very shy and timid, and generally reluctant to give 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 are actually Austen's, including the "History of England".
Monaghan takes issue with Rozema's depiction of Fanny's ‘enlightened attitudes towards issues of gender, class and race’. He sees this as trendy liberal humanism that seeks to make the awkward heroine more acceptable to a modern audience. This view is considered enigmatic by some as others assert that both Austen and Fanny share enlightened attitudes towards gender, class and race. In the novel, it is the hard-working, ill-educated lower-class Price children who are the victors. Fanny alone resists the power of the landed gentry, defying both the awesome patriarch, Sir Thomas Bertram, and the manipulative seducer, Henry Crawford.
Overt references to sexualityEdit
This adaptation modernises the chaste, virtuous story by including several references to sexuality. The first instance, Fanny's discovery of Maria and Henry Crawford in clandestine sexual activity during a rehearsal of Lover's Vows, is not included in the book, where the flirtation is far more subtle. Secondly, Mary Crawford's frequent sensual touches and lingering gazes on Fanny convey a homoerotic tension with little textual support. Rozema claimed the "lesbian frisson" was "definitely in the book," arising from Miss Crawford's worldly character, though admitted she chose Mansfield Park because she "knew she could indulge herself in a couple of scenes."
Other character changesEdit
The parson Dr. Grant, and his wife, the Crawfords' half-sister Mrs. Grant, do not feature in the film. Fanny's close relationship with her brother William in the book is mostly 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. As well, the character of Sir Thomas is portrayed in a much more negative light. In the book, Sir Thomas is much more caring, principled, and remorseful of the way his daughters were raised. Also in the book, Tom Bertram gains sense after his illness, and ceases to live a careless, selfish life.
Fanny's banishment to Portsmouth is characterised as a punishment by a vengeful Sir Thomas rather than as a much more subtle and manipulative ploy expressed partly 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. (This is taken from Austen's own history when she accepted a proposal of marriage from a man she had known since childhood, only to retract her acceptance the next day.)
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 London house to run away with Crawford.
In the novel, the revelation of Maria's adulterous affair, including Mary's casual attitude towards it, occurs through letters (including from Mary to Fanny) and from later reported conversations; 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, later receiving a love letter from Mr Yates.
Mansfield Park has received generally favorable reviews from critics. Film review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 77% of critics gave the film a positive review based on 69 reviews, with an average score of 6.9/10. The website's critical consensus reads, "Solid performances, bold direction." On Metacritic, which assigns a rating out of 100 based on reviews from critics, the film has a score of 71 based on 31 reviews.
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." 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."
Andrew Johnston 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."
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- Mansfield Park at IMDb
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- Claudia L. Johnson Run mad, but do not faint: The Authentic Audacity of Rozema's MANSFIELD PARK on Patricia Rozema.com (1999)
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- Kathi Groenendyk Modernizing Mansfield Park: Patricia Rozema’s Spin on Jane Austen on JASNA (Winter 2004)