Monday, January 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

ITV is not BBC and should stop trying to be. Jane Austen simply cannot effectively be condensed into 90 minutes. Mansfield Park—much like Persuasion—suffers from over-condensation. The story moves so quickly that characters and relationships cannot be developed properly—and significant chunks of the story (i.e., Fanny’s return to her family in Portsmouth) don’t even make the cut.

I did not reread Mansfield Park because I didn’t want to judge the film too meticulously. Or maybe it's because I have little desire to reread the book. Although it sounds blasphemous, I don’t love the novel—or Fanny Price. Austen’s Fanny has little spunk and personality, and nothing draws me to her (or cousin Edmund for that matter).

The Masterpiece Mansfield Park tries to rectify Fanny’s personality deficit by casting the perky Billie Piper. San Francisco Chronicle describes Piper’s Fanny as a "street urchin," and I tend to agree. In London last fall, I caught a bit of Piper on ITV’s Secret Diary of a Call Girl. Piper is much more convincing as a prostitute than an Austen heroine. Her Fanny practically stalks Edmund, desperately needs a hairbrush, and gives little reason for Edmund, Henry Crawford, or the viewer to love her.

My criticisms are not derived from an innate sense of purism. I am a fan (one of the few) of the 1999 film adaptation. The movie is anything but faithful to the original, including a subplot about slavery. Yet, the film is humorous and Frances O’Connor’s Fanny is witty and intelligent. The pacing also effectively portrays Fanny’s relationships with Edmund and the Crawfords. (Can you tell I rewatched the movie this morning?)

Thus far, I haven’t been overly impressed with The Complete Jane Austen. I am hopeful Emma and Sense and Sensibility will blow me away.

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