1999’s “Mansfield Park”: Wait, what?

th.jpgI try to be open to other interpretations of novels, but seriously, what? Quite aside from anything else, what in the name of God and all things good is explicit sex doing in an Austen adaptation?

There’s about a thousand things wrong with this bloody movie, but in the end the important thing is the fact that it’s not an Austen movie. It really has very little to do with “Mansfield Park.” Mansfield Park is a slow, nostalgic, biting, SUBTLE novel about inequality and womanhood. It’s heroine is a woman who finds a way to make passivity into a bullwark, who lives a life where the only power she has is to say “no,” and she manages to make that into a source of power. Moral questions play a central role, and each individual person’s understanding of morality has far-reaching consequences all through the plot.

701942.jpgThis movie is a judgmental, playful, smartly written by someone who is not Jane Austen at all, and as subtle as a heart attack. Class inequality is part of the setting, and is just a matter of juxtaposing the Price home and Mansfield Park, with nothing about the subtleties of interactions between actual people. Morality is not a constant balancing act among a group of interacting characters: it’s instead extramarital sex and various other similar anvils.

Other than that, it’s a “white people talk about racism” movie. Where people of color are utterly voiceless, and yet are contrived to be at the center of the plot. It’s sibling is the “white people fix racism” movie. Frankly, if the writer wanted to talk about race and racism she should have found a way to make a person of color and actual part of the plot.

It’s feminist not in a way that explores the problems of the time, but in a way that is designed to please viewers of the present. And it’s heroine, though she is named Fanny Price, simply  is not Fanny Price. She’s not an interpretation of the character: she’s an entirely new character. Which, not incidentally, renders her entire relationship with Edmund entirely nonsensical.

It’s really not a bad movie. It’s just not an Austen movie.


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