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  •  REVIEW: MANSFIELD PARK



    The remarkable Frances O'Connor in Mansfield Park. in Mansfield Park
    The remarkable Frances O'Connor in Mansfield Park.

    Austen powered

    What, another Jane Austen movie? Yes — and "Mansfield Park" sets a new standard for adaptations of the popular author's works.

    By DAVID N. BUTTERWORTH
    Offoffoff.com

    Emma. Persuasion. Pride and Prejudice. Sense and Sensibility.

      
    MANSFIELD PARK
    Written and directed by: Patricia Rozema.
    Adapted from the novel by: Jane Austen.
    Cast: Embeth Davidtz, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Frances O'Connor, Harold Pinter.
    Cinematography: Michael Coulter.

    Related links: Official site | All of David N. Butterworth's reviews at Rotten Tomatoes
    Moviedom's love affair with the work of Jane Austen has never been more apparent than in the last several years. And I'm not just talking major motion pictures here; the Arts & Entertainment cable network has been broadcasting an equal amount of made-for-British-television Austen fare for months.

    Now we have "Mansfield Park" to continue the illustrious tradition, a film inspired by Austen's journals, letters, and a tome of intimidating length that bears the same name. While not a strict adaptation of the novel — the talent behind this new production has chosen to give the "Mansfield Park" heroine, Fanny Price, a contemporary air and heightened the Antiguan slave trade subtext — the film nonetheless showcases Austen's proficiency in developing characters so rich and vital you'll want to spend many more hours in their collective company.

    Frances O'Connor and Harold Pinter. in Mansfield Park  
    Frances O'Connor and Harold Pinter.
      
    As Fanny Price, Frances O'Connor is remarkable (and she doesn't even get top billing!). A young woman with a quick wit and a fine command of the written and spoken word (some would say she possesses "a man's intellect"), Fanny is shipped at an early age from her poverty-stricken dockside home to the dreary elegance of Mansfield Park, an imposing Georgian estate presided over by her wealthy uncle, the implacable Sir Thomas Bertram. Sir Thomas is played by the distinguished English playwright Harold Pinter, whose screenwriting credits include "The Go-Between," "Betrayal," and "The French Lieutenant's Woman."

    At Mansfield Park, Fanny is forced to endure a life little better than a scullery maid, condescendingly treated by one Mrs. Norris (Sheila Gish). During her tenure there, Fanny witnesses various cousins, friends, and neighbors falling in and out of love with each other — and herself — at the drop of a handkerchief.

    Not only has Canadian writer/director Patricia Rozema ("I've Heard the Mermaids Singing") retained all of Austen's feel and flair for the world of 1806, but she has beautifully recreated the language that gives the author's writings such energy. The entire cast, especially Embeth Davidtz (who does get top billing) as the shallow, worldly Mary Crawford, Alessandro Nivola as her rakish brother Henry, and Jonny Lee Miller as Fanny's cousin and confidant Edmund Bertram, is marvelous and the range of emotions they traverse in two short hours is astonishing.

      Embeth Davidtz. in Mansfield Park
      Embeth Davidtz.
    Like all of Austen's works, "Mansfield Park" is drawn from the author's own life experiences, a life spent almost entirely within her own family circle of struggling country parsons, rich fools, eligible fops, and young ladies itching to come out into society. By continuing, unbendingly, to write within that narrow world view she has given us great literature — a precise and complex view of human nature wrapped in incisive humor, social and moral consequence, and enduring style.

    With its gorgeous cinematography (often shot through leaded panes of glass that haven't seen Windex in weeks), lovely muted score, and sure-footed performances, especially by Frances O'Connor, Patricia Rozema's "Mansfield Park" sets a new standard for adaptations of Jane Austen's work.

    In that regard the only thing left to add is bring on "Northanger Abbey"!

    DECEMBER 7, 1999
    OFFOFFOFF.COM • THE GUIDE TO ALTERNATIVE NEW YORK


    Reader comments on Mansfield Park:

  • "Mansfield Park"   from David Bretton, Sep 23, 2000
  • Re: "Mansfield Park"   from Belinda Bretton, Sep 24, 2000
  • Mansfield Park   from Molly W., May 22, 2001

  • Post a comment on "Mansfield Park"