Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mansfield Park

I finally found time to watch my tape of the 'Complete Jane Austen' version of 'Mansfield Park' which appeared on PBS in January.

My disappointment in their version of 'Persuasion' was equalled by my disappointment in 'Manfield Park'. The one and one half hour version, while adequate for 'Persuasion', could not do justice to MP. It is a complex story and one the producers seemed to have deliberately simplified and misunderstood. It is not a simply romance, it is a discussion of a society in all its layers and nuances. Overall, the presentation suffered (as did Persuasion) from stilted performances, as though the actors were intimidated by acting such a classic of literature.

The first thing that really bothered me was the complete rewriting of the character of Fanny Price. This version portrays Fanny as a confident, if immature, tomboy. I can understand why they did it--their character appeals to a modern audience much more than Jane Austen's anxious subservient girl. But you cannot change a major character so much with impunity. Fanny Price shapes the story, and Billie Piper was not Fanny Price. I felt sorry for the poor actress to be so miscast. She was done no favours either with all that unlikely, loose, and unconvincingly coloured hair and the gowns that Fanny Price would never have donned!

The other actors were pleasantly competent, almost carbon copies of the 1980s MP version. Sir Thomas was better portrayed in this version, I must say that. His character in this film is more consistent with that Jane Austen wrote.

One character stood out--Edmund Bertram as portrayed by Blake Ritson. I thought he did an excellent job. Mr. Ritson really cared about his character and brought him to life: less saintly than the 1980's Edmund, more vigorous, more committed to his calling, and very good-looking :)

The final ten minutes of the film almost made up for all the other problems. It had all the natural warmth, convincing characterization and appealing adaptation that the rest of the film, and 'Persuasion' lacked. But all in all, 'Manfield Park' was a disappointing film, and I think I'll go watch the 1980's version again.

One good thing came from this viewing--I'm re-reading the book to see if my assessments about the screenplay and adaptation are accurate. I'm enjoying it immensely, and yes, I am right.

'Northanger Abbey' next; I'll let you know what I think!

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Becoming Jane Austen

A month ago, I watched the new PBS film "Miss Austen Regrets", and at last I have a chance to give my opinion!

I thought it was wonderful. The settings and costumes were impeccable to my eye. The period was fully realized and it appears now to be an enchanted world, though the struggles of people have not changed at all.

Jane Austen will now always be Olivia Williams to me. I thought she captured the edge that Miss Austen must have had, the slender brittle quality of tension, the qualified kindness and the keen intensity. The script gave Jane an authentic wit and a conversation full of enigmas and ambiguities.

The old romance with Brook Bridges was well done, if unexpected. Why not, after all? We really know very little about Jane's private life. We know her as sister and daughter, dutiful and conscientious. We think we know her very well, but we don't know her loves at all. This film offers a plausible view of those and of her state of mind toward the end of her life.

Her increasing frailty at the end of the film brought tears to my eyes, and I wept over her regrets. I'm looking forward to watching this film again and again, as I do the movies made from her books. I highly recommend this film to anyone with an interest in the author, the period or just a good story.

Hmmm, I think I need to add a Jane Austen page to my redesigned website. I'll add that to my to-do list. Do visit me at my new web address,, and let me know what you think of the redesign!