Then came the Social Significance - as if Austen's novels were not full of social significance. Evidently the adapter disliked the nineteenth century, and Austen, and set out to show them up for what they were. I pretended to miss the insinuation of her father's having molested her and her sister--there being no other interpretation to be placed on the looks exchanged between the two of them and their mother when he gives Fanny a hug. But then Fanny turns up an album of atrocity pictures showing what her (almost) foster father, his son, and his crew were really getting up to with their slaves.
This exceeds allowable bounds. Such a device might be imposed on Fielding, or on Dickens, without betraying the author's purpose too far; but not Austen. It obliterates the story, or what's left of it. In the face of rapes and beatings and tortures, who gives a fig whether Miss Price and her Reverend get together? Yet the comedy of manners continues galumphing along as if the scene had never happened. Having forced it in, the adapter makes no changes in the narrative to accommodate it. This is film-making for MTV watchers, i.e. patients with short-term memory loss.
Ah - the adapter might counter - but that's just the point! The characters act as if these horrors didn't exist! To which I would reply: if she felt, reading the novel, that the squire was just the kind of man who would have done that sort of thing, white European male pig that he was, and that Austen (owing to her famous ignorance of human nature, which causes her books to continue to be read two centuries later) was too much of a booby to see it, whereas the adapter's own superior sensibility makes all things manifest, she might at least have done Fanny the justice of having her react to the discovery as she would have, given her character. The story turns on her absolute moral rectitude and her rejection of the amorality represented by the Dangerous Liaisons characters. In the face of the dark deeds of which she becomes aware, her denunciation of the others becomes itself amoral and hypocritical, for she has silently acquiesced in the viciousness of her class.
This conclusion must be extrapolated, since it is nowhere stated in the film, the adapter not having troubled to stir in the muck she has tossed into the pot. But I can't help wondering, if her object was to discredit Fanny, as well as the monsters around her--if she had so little use for the character as that--why did she choose to do this book?