I’m about to commit a literary solecism here and admit this is one of the few Austen novels I had not read prior to seeing this movie. I realize this makes me a complete Philistine in certain circles but although I have since read the book, I thought this film was absolutely charming and it was a real pleasure to see the lovely Billie Piper playing Fanny Price. This is more of an artistic impression of Mansfield Park, with the action mightily compressed, a great deal edited out and dialogue cherry picked from all over the place, but there are some characters they portrayed very well. Mrs. Norris is an unhappy wet blanket, smothering the joy out of everything, and Joseph Morgan was so good as a naval midshipman in Master and Commander that they got him to do it again, this time as Fanny’s brother, William. Lady Bertram might give the impression of a languorous and feeble-minded matron, but really she’s as sharp as a tack and quite astute. Spoiled and narcissistic Maria Bertram is absolutely nailed by Michelle Ryan and James D’Arcy plays profligate wastrel Tom Bertram beautifully. I loved the shallow and flaky Crawford siblings (Hayley Atwell in particular shines as Mary), especially their first scene as they sally towards the Bertrams’ front door and blatantly outline their mercenary motives for infiltrating the neighborhood. My heart broke quite unexpectedly for gruff Sir Thomas Bertram when he says, in a brilliant bit of acting, that he never really knew his daughter at all.
Fanny’s character has been jazzed up a bit, making her more vivacious instead of trying to portray her incredibly internalized thoughts and meek personality from the book. This has to be one of the most difficult of Austen’s books to try and film as it is so very delicate and understated and much of it is only revealed by an omniscient narrator rather than through dialogue. Visually, this has gorgeous sets and locations, and did you know there is a veritable merry-go-round of costumes whizzing about between film productions of Austen’s work? Pretty much every dress or accessory has appeared before in many other Austen movies and it’s all detailed on IMDB.com under ‘Trivia’ (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0847182/?ref_=nv_sr_3). I adored Edmund (beautifully underplayed by Blake Ritson), who has possibly the most quintessential (if slightly shortened) Jane Austen line: “I am worn out with civility. Talking all evening with nothing to say.” I give this four stars because while this version has its faults, it’s impossible to make a bad movie out of an Austen novel because she’s just that good. – BETHANY
Henry and Mary Crawford
Mrs. Norris in all her disapproving splendor
Fanny and Edmund
Edmund, Tom and Maria in the ill-advised play
Photos courtesy of ITV, Granada Ventures, PBS and Masterpiece Theatre