Monday, July 15, 2013

Review: Mansfield Park (2007)

I finally got to watch a version of Mansfield Park! I had intended to watch a version of it after I finished reading it, but since my progress through the book was slow and required me to start over again due to a busy schedule, I watched it without finishing the book. However, I did read enough of the book to get a good sense of what the book is like. I heard a lot about this adaptation: I had heard that it wasn't a good version of Mansfield Park, but that it wasn't as bad as the infamous 1999 version (which I don't really intend to watch). Eventually I will watch the 1983 version of Mansfield Park in its entirety, but for now, here is the 2007 version.
U.S. Box Art

Synopsis
Meek and timid Fanny Price, the eldest daughter in her family, is taken in by her uncle Sir Thomas Bertram (a baronet) and his wife Lady Bertram to be raised alongside their children Tom, Edmund, Maria, and Julia since the age of ten. Though Fanny is brought up along with her cousins, she constantly reminded that she is inferior to her cousins due to her low birth. The only one that Fanny becomes close to is Edmund, who she falls in love with quickly. However the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford creates an upheaval in the lives of the Bertrams and Fanny.



Characters
There were a couple of familiar British actors in this movie. There aren't as many familiar faces in Mansfield Park as in other period dramas, however there were a few that I recognized.
Actor/ActressCharacterAlso Seen In
Billie PiperFanny PriceDoctor Who as Rose Tyler
Blake RitsonEdmund BertramEmma as Mr. Elton
Hayley AtwellMary CrawfordThe Duchess as Lady Bess Foster

One of the problems that I had with this film was that it was way too short and rushed. Mansfield Park is Jane Austen's longest book, but this is the shortest Jane Austen adaptations that I've seen (not counting the Pride and Prejudice and Northanger Abbey episodes of Wishbone, of course). Though I didn't finish Mansfield Park, I noticed that a lot of scenes were missing and that everything felt rushed. I felt like I didn't really know the characters very well by the end of the 93 minute run of the movie.

Before watching this movie, I had heard that Billie Piper got Fanny Price's character all wrong. Well, that is pretty much correct. I'm not saying that she was a bad actress in this movie, but I don't think she was the Fanny that is in the book. There were a  couple of major points that they missed in Fanny's character:
Fanny Price as portrayed by Billie Piper
  • Fanny is a very timid, shy character: I can't imagine her running through the halls of Mansfield laughing and giggling. Is this the same girl that came to Mansfield crying?
  • Fanny has a very moral core that she never goes against even to the point of angering everyone. Is it possible that the Fanny in the book, who was so dead set against acting in the play Lover's Vows to the point that everyone was angry with her, would suddenly consent to acting in the movie? And if she did, would that have been the same Fanny that would be able to hold off pressure to marry Henry Crawford? I doubt it.
  • Fanny's health isn't even touched upon in this movie. Billie Piper's Fanny looked healthy and had no problem running about Mansfield. Fanny is supposed to have fairly weak health (hence why she rides the old grey pony).
Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram
I think the problem wasn't Billie Piper's acting, but it was the fact that she was miscast in the role. She would be more suited to a more confident character, not someone as meek and shy as Fanny. Could she have done better as Elizabeth Bennet or Emma Woodhouse? Maybe. It's possible. But I don't think period dramas is her area of acting: she looks too modern for me to be believable in a period film.

Despite his being Mr. Elton in the 2009 miniseries of Emma, Blake Ritson was a decent Edmund. His acting was pretty good and you could tell that he cared a lot for Fanny. Though I liked him as Edmund, I think he was probably more suited to the role of Mr. Elton in Emma than to Edmund. I didn't really picture Edmund with greasy hair like he had in this movie (but this is probably a costuming issue and definitely not as grievous as Fanny's hair, but more on that later), but still, he was a okay Edmund.

Lady Bertram (left) and Mrs. Norris (right)
Mrs. Norris wasn't the Mrs. Norris I pictured in the book. I pictured Mrs. Norris as being more snippy and mean than she was in this Mansfield Park. She was more like Mrs. Jamieson in Cranford than Mrs. Norris: someone putting on airs, but really not a threat. They also left out how Mrs. Norris is a huge spendthrift and always saves her money. I've only seen parts of the 1983 version of Mansfield Park, but I think the role of Mrs. Norris should go to someone more like Anna Massey (who, from what I've seen of the 1983 version, did a really good job). Lady Bertram was more active than she should have been. Maybe the camera was only catching her at the times she was up and off camera she was on the couch, but you don't get the sense of her being indolent as she is described in the book.

Mary and Henry Crawford... But where did they come from?
The Crawfords inexplicably appear out of nowhere since Dr. and Mrs. Grant (the parson and his wife) were cut from this movie (their presence would have explained why the Crawfords were there at all). If one isn't familiar with Mansfield Park, they would wonder why the Crawfords were there at all: they are essentially nobodies with money that suddenly visit the Bertrams as opposed to in the book where they are the half siblings of Mrs. Grant and are visiting their half sister.

Scenery
Under the tent at Mansfield
The highlight of this movie is the scenery. Even if the storyline was off and the costumes weren't as great as they could have been (but more on that later), the scenery of this version of Mansfield Park is great! There are plenty of bright colors and lovely country houses. The one opportunity that they missed out on was the visit to Mr. Rushworth's home of Sotherton. That would have been a great opportunity for good scenery since Sotherton's estate and grounds were talked about at length in the book.

Costumes
Well, I've got good news and bad news. The good news is that there are some lovely costumes in Mansfield Park. They looked nice and pretty and well made. The bad news? They were ill-suited for the time period, status of the characters, and with regards to Fanny's costumes would not be something that she would have worn.

An example of the old fashioned fashions of Mansfield Park.
Would Lady Bertram have worn clothes that were at least
twenty years old?
First of all, let's start on the time period. Though the movie does not say in what years Mansfield Park takes place, generally we are to assume that it takes place about the time the novel was published: 1814. However, many of the dresses throughout Mansfield Park were very obviously from the late 1700s. Now, there are some characters that could get away with this (Mrs. Norris, maybe, since she is an older character who scrimps and saves), but definitely not the younger characters. Though Fanny is "the poor relation", I don't think they would have made her worn clothes that were at least twenty years old. Now sure, you could say, "Oh Miss Lizzy! Maybe they wanted to set the story earlier than the original story was set." That would have worked except the Crawfords had the clothes that they were supposed to be wearing. Either the Bertrams are stuck in the past or the Crawfords are from the future...

Then there's the status of the characters. Sir Thomas is a baronet with a nice home and plenty of money. Would the women in a baronet's family have worn clothes that were at least twenty years old? No. It would make sense if they were poor, but they're not. Even though the Bertrams live in the country, they would have still have heard about Regency fashions by 1814. Generally speaking, the waistlines on all the girls with the exception of Mary Crawford were too low for the time period.

Fanny's outdated dress with no
fichu.
Now for Fanny's dresses. I would say all of Fanny's dresses had a low neckline that was rarely filled in with a fichu (and a fichu that did nothing to cover her up). Really, Fanny is supposed to be this meek, modest character who has a strong moral code which she follows strictly. Can we really believe that Fanny would have realistically have worn low cut dresses without a suitable fichu or chemisette? Granted, the low cut dresses would have been more suited to Maria and Mary Crawford  whose morals are already shaky (and their clothes illustrated that point), but definitely not on Fanny. And don't get me started on Fanny's hair. This was another area where the costume crew failed. First of all, is it at all possible for someone in Regency England to have light blonde hair and dark brown eyebrows? Sure, there were hair dyes back then, but someone as young as Fanny probably wouldn't have dyed her hair. Let's face it, that is a very modern trend that should have been taken care of before filming; you have her wear a wig or something if Billie Piper didn't want to dye her hair Then, they always left Fanny's hair down, even after she was out. No Regency lady would have walked outside of the house with her hair the way Fanny had her hair. Maybe it would have been more passible before she was out in society, but her hair was down for the entire movie.

Overall: 3/5
Okay, here's my opinion of this Mansfield Park: I liked it for what it was, but it wasn't Jane Austen's Mansfield Park. And even though I liked it, I still thought it was a flawed period drama. Even ignoring the fact that a lot of Jane Austen's original story was cut, it was too rushed because it was too short for the amount of content in the story. Minor characters were cut out of this version that should have been in there at least to make it flow a little better. Even a simple mention of Dr. and Mrs. Grant would have explained why the Crawfords were there at all. Some of the main characters were also miscasted, which lead this adaption to be lackluster. I'm still of the opinion that Mansfield Park should have a new accurate adaption: this simply was not it.

Besides some kissing, there is no content in that should cause much concern. I would suspect that it would have been rated TV-G or TV-PG when it aired on TV. Definitely a plus compared to the content that was in the 1999 Mansfield Park.

Mansfield Park is available on DVD. The version available on DVD in the U.S. is about 93 minutes long.

15 comments:

  1. MP is my least-favorite Austen, and I haven't sought out any movie versions. If I ever do, it won't be this one! Thanks for convincing me of that.

    One thing, though -- I had a roommate in college who had natural blonde hair and natural brown eyebrows. So that combo could occur naturally.

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    1. From what I understand, the only decent version of Mansfield Park is the 1983 version (which is fairly outdated from what I hear).

      About the hair/eyebrows: I did not know that. I assumed that hair and eyebrows were the same color naturally. Though looking at the box cover, it almost looks like Fanny has roots in her hair. Maybe that's another reason why I thought it looked fake. Thanks for the comment! :-)

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    2. I think it depends on what color blonde you are, for one thing. My mom has blonde hair and blonde eyebrows, but she's always had pretty light blonde hair. My daughter is 3, and her hair is closer to the color I'm seeing here. Her hair is darker underneath because the sun lightens it every summer when she plays outside. But it's dark under all of it, not just at the roots :-)

      BTW, I really love learning about costumes from you! I'd never known the word "fichu" until I read this post :-)

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    3. Thank you! Fichus (which might also be called neckerchiefs) were used to fill in necklines from the 1700s until the end of the Regency Era. If you want to see more examples of fichus, Sense and Sensibility (1995) has a lot of good examples of it.

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    4. Billie Piper does dye her hair and it's distracting, but what I'm commenting for is to say that while the production values of the 1983 version are terribly outdated, it's so worth watching! I'm generally not one for more-faithful-less-modern versions of Austen, but as Fanny is never ever done justice, even often in the fandom, it is just. brilliant. to watch a movie where she's not altered to suit modern tastes. It's on Netflix, if you have it.

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    5. Cassidy,
      I have it on my instant queue! :-D

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    6. I don't think I'd even be able to watch an Austen movie with Billie Piper in the title role. To me, she just does not suit my idea of Fanny Price in the least. I did like Syvestra Le Touzel's performance as the plain, put-upon Fanny, and Anna Massey's carping aunt in the older version. There is something touching about the final scene; it is a tribute to the very park itself, not to the characters. There are few likeable people in the novel, whereas in Pride and Prejudice most people are likeable if not interesting.

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  2. I am glad you feel this way about this Mansfield Park. I keep seeing clips of it on fanmade montages on YouTube and I thought I was missing something because I do not like it and so I re-watched it a couple of days ago only to come back to the point it isn't that good. I have never seen the 1983 version but I do like the version with Frances O'connor and Jonny Lee Miller... though I know it is not very accurate.

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    1. Yeah, I think I liked this Mansfield Park for what it was, but not as a Jane Austen adaptation (though as a period drama, it was still flawed).

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  3. Good review,love Jane Austin,love this book."It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife".

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  4. I have seen the 1999 version of Mansfield Park, but only clips from the 2007 version. I tried to watch the 2007 adaptation, but I just couldn't bring myself to. To me, it seemed far worse than the 1999 version. The 1999 version did not do a good job of adapting the book, but on its own, it's not a bad movie. I didn't enjoy it at all, though. I think the 1983 adaptation is the best version. I agree that Billie Piper seems too modern to be in period films. Her hair has obviously been dyed blond and it's really distracting.

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  5. The 1999 version has loads of silliness (including, if I recall correctly, Fanny addressing the camera directly), but is worth seeing for one reason: Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford. Not only is he incredibly handsome and sexy -- always nice in a bad boy -- but he manages to capture the self-centered arrogance coupled with the ability to turn on a boyish charm that makes you understand why Fanny would be both attracted and repelled.

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  6. I look at the cast of the 1999 version and it does seem to be full of decent period drama actors/actresses, but I've heard so many bad things about it that I don't really intend to watch it anytime soon.

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  7. Good review, Miss Elizabeth! Rushed is absolutely THE word for this Mansfield Park adaptation, you almost feel out of breath when watching it ;-)

    You should give the '99 version of Mansfield Park a try though. It's not very close to the book, but it's a nice movie in it's own right and I love the interaction between Fanny and Edmund and Fanny and Henry Crawford in that one.

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  8. Awesome review. Think I'll skip this movie in particular, but I enjoyed learning more about this period of time. I also wanted to add that my sister and I have always had blonde hair and black eyebrows (from early childhood to late teens). Yes, black. And black eyelashes. Now my hair is a darker shade of blonde, but I lighten it and just leave my eyebrows alone. Not going to blind myself (I can be clumsy) trying to match the colors, lol.

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