Tuesday, May 5, 2020

Mansfield Park

Image credit: London By Gaslight
Just a quick forewarning, dear reader, that the next couple of reviews are going to be of the Austen variety, as I am currently feeling a little stressed and fragile from working in a consumer’s essential retail outlet during a pandemic; yesterday I treated myself and bought a triple pack of Jane Austen telemovies so be prepared for a bit of an Austen bender… starting with Mansfield Park.

Starring Austen’s favourite heroine, Mansfield Park tells the story of Fanny Price (Billie Piper), a sweet-natured and humble girl who is taken from her life of poverty and sent to Mansfield Park to be raised by her rich relatives. Growing up, her Uncle Bertram, Aunt Norris, and cousins always treated her as the outsider; her cousin Edmund (Blake Ritson) becoming her only ally. She soon falls in love with Edmund, but disaster strikes when the charismatic and stylish Crawfords come to Mansfield Park and wreak havoc on its inhabitants.

Having only recently read Mansfield Park for the first time, it quickly became a favourite of mine and I am glad that this adaptation is a faithful, albeit somewhat cheaply condensed, one. Opening on a perfectly dramatic tone with voice-over narration, it quickly gains some warmth and heart, which paves the way for the delicious scandal and drama that ensues.
Mansfield Park is one of Austen’s darker romances –in my personal opinion- and while there is a happy ending that leaves audiences warm and pleased, I do feel that it was a little saccharinely sweet in this movie, trying to be more like Sense & Sensibility or Pride & Prejudice: the most celebrated of Austen's romantic comedies. However, this is a tiny complaint against an otherwise lovely film to while away the afternoon with.

Every Woman Dreams
The cast is very intriguing with Billie Piper being quite an interesting Fanny, with her strong and determined features and presence somewhat contrasting with the genteel nature of the character. However, she does the role really well, with a gorgeous glow of innocence, humbleness, and decorum.
Playing against our sweet and gentle heroine is Hayley Atwell as the stylish, manipulative, and overtly frank ‘villainess’, Marianne Crawford. With her soft features and an endearing gentleness in her voice and manner, she is truly the human equivalent of the witch’s gingerbread house: all sweetness and pleasing to the eye, but completely soulless horror within. Atwell does the role beautifully.

Those audience feelings of warmth, engagement, and easiness that accompany any Austen adaptation are here in abundance, making this adaptation a perfect one to curl up with a cup of tea and enjoy. It’s classic British romance, a real treat.

Director: Iain B. MacDonald, 2007

Cast: Billie Piper, Maggie O’Neil, Douglas Hodge, Blake Ritson, James D’Arcy, Michelle Ryan, Rory Kinnear, Catherine Steadman, Hayley Atwell, Joseph Beattie, Joseph Morgan, and Jemma Redgrave

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