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Jonny Lee Miller
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At 10, Fanny Price, a poor relation, goes to live at Mansfield Park, the estate of her aunt's husband, Sir Thomas. Clever, studious, and a writer with an ironic imagination and fine moral compass, she becomes especially close to Edmund, Thomas's younger son. Fanny is soon possessed of beauty as well as a keen mind and comes to the attention of a neighbor, Henry Crawford. Thomas promotes this match, but to his displeasure, Fanny has a mind of her own, asking Henry to prove himself worthy. As Edmund courts Henry's sister and as light shines on the link between Thomas's fortunes and New World slavery, Fanny must assess Henry's character and assert her heart as well as her wit. Written by
Even cute-as-a-button "Frances O'Connor" couldn't save this pointless exercise...
They say the great thing about Shakespeare's work is that it is so open to interpretation. Every director can bring his or her fresh eyes to a play and make it new. Even so, I think we are obliged to stay true to the basic tennents of the text. Are the works of Jane Austen as open to interpretation? Maybe, but I doubt it; Certainly not if MANSFIELD PARK is anything to go by.
MANSFIELD was always my favourite of Austen's six novels. Many modern critics, while not denying its basic greatness, have problems with the book. Many find FANNY PRICE unlikeable, many find her judgemental, and feel that her Stoic, Augustan approach is hard to relate to. Stand-by, do nothing, and eventually he'll see the error of his ways and come to love you. Not very modern, is it?
OK, so if you don't like the main character, if you don't like what she has to say, then what do you do? Look for other aspects of the story you can relate to. In recent years some critics have chosen to see MANSFIELD PARK in Post-Imperial terms, as a critique of Slavery. After all, the family's wealth is based on plantations in Antiga, which were run by slaves. Is that what the book's about? Is it? I don't know. I think the evidence is a little slim, but who am I to deny the possibility? Maybe it plays a part in the subtext of the novel.
So, I'm a modern script-writer who doesn't like the novel, it's pre-occupations or even Fanny Price. What do I do? I completely re-write the story to take a possible minor sub-text (slavery) and turn it in to the driving narrative force. I then take smart as a whippet, stubborn yet passive Fanny and turn her into a ballsy version of Bridget Jones. With an attitude. I then string together a couple of scenes from the book with a few invented bridging scenes to advance the romance. Et Voila! I have a completely different story!
I don't know what this film is, but it isn't Mansfield Park. Enjoy it on its own terms, but don't ever get the idea that your watching Austen on the screen. But, jeeze. I think that if you're going to adapt a novel for the screen, you ought to at least like the source material; Otherwise, what's the point? If you don't like the main character, you shouldn't be able to completely re-invent her. Or if you do, you should have the decency to be a little ashamed.
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