By Miss de Point, The Pleasant Times Movie Critic
Everingham Park, Yorkshire
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Today I will review two Mansfield Park movies, the recent ITV/Masterpiece Theater production with Billie Piper, and the 1983 BBC production with Sylvestra le Touzel as Fanny Price.
I believe that after many viewings, I do prefer the 1983 version the best, though it took some getting used to. I could not help but compare the new one to it.
I found that I enjoyed most of the cast in the new Mansfield Park, and only wished that the film could have been twice as long and contained more from the book. I thought the actors did an excellent job, much more professional than the last two Jane Austen films we have reviewed.
Now for Fanny: I know that many people did not like Billie Piper cast as meek little Fanny, and I have some philosophizing to do about this. First of all, I believe that an actress can play Fanny Price, I believe Ms. Piper can play Fanny Price, if only she understands Fanny Price. Fanny Price had a deep sense of right and wrong, was humble and unassuming, had been raised with a sense of duty and she was a little afraid of Sir Thomas. She was put upon and pushed around by Aunt
Norris, but if she knew how much, she was not about to roll her eyes, smirk, or complain loudly. She was greatly relieved when she was rescued from her Aunt Norris, as anyone in her situation would be. Fanny was not a flirtatious girl, and did not welcome Mr. Crawford's attentions, though she tried to be civil and proper.
You see, of course, that the description above is the opposite of Ms. Piper's Fanny Price. I found her too flirty, too immodest (I believe that Fanny Price would have been at least as modest as her Aunts) too ill mannered (if the servants were not allowed to run through the halls, and the children would have been trained to restrain themselves from running through the halls, why not Fanny?), too flirtatious and sensual, too disrespectful, too unkempt (again I say, if the servants and the family had their hair combed and put to rights, why not Fanny?) and a bit too jealous. I didn't mind her wearing the same gown all the time, though I think she would have a little more variety as the Bertram sisters handed down their worn out finery to her.
I also found something wanting in the pronunciation of Ms. Piper in several of her lines. She sort of trailed off into a lisp at the end of her sentences. I think she was not always opening her mouth to enunciate her words.
This version also did not, I think, set up the notion that Fanny was quite indispensable to the family. The twisting of the plot to leave Fanny alone was useful for cutting out time and expense in this film, but I think that sending Fanny home to see her family (as in the book) was a better idea. She would be lonely staying at Mansfield all by herself, to be sure, but then there were the servants to wait on her, the minister to visit, and all her things to keep her occupied. It didn't make much sense to me. It seemed more like a rude punishment, than trying to get her to "come to her senses" and marry Mr. Crawford.
Henry Crawford and Fanny Price
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On the whole I found that the sound really bothered me. It was obvious that the filmmakers were using mics clipped on to clothing. Not only could I hear costumes rubbed against the mic a few times, but I could tell that not all of the actors were talking quite normally, not as they would in real life. For instance, Sir Thomas talked almost under his breath many times, and I wondered how those in the room or across the long dining table could have heard what he said.
And speaking of Sir Thomas, he was way too mean. Too harsh. Not at all like a rich gentlemen who perhaps was too stiff and formal, too out-of-the-loop, but just plain cranky. One could see why the young people were relieved at his departure, because he was just so rude. I do not believe that the young Bertrams in the book were meant to be glad he left because of his meanness, but because they were not really good, and were glad that their artificial restraint (their father) was gone so they could "let loose" and ignore his rules for the family. So I think they portrayed Sir Thomas in this film as so awful that it made the audience feel too much sympathy with his children, and thus we would come to the conclusion that what the young people were doing wasn't so bad, and did not notice their wrong attitudes.
This film did not give enough time to devote to setting up the characters of the rest of the family. Maria certainly was nothing more than a pretty face swept away by some charming fellow. We do get a glimpse of her prideful character in the scene where she refuses to break her engagement with her fiance (which I am really glad they put in the film, as this scene was missing in the 1983 version). Her sister Julia's character is hardly sketched out.
Edmund did a good job, though I thought this actor showed his struggles rather lightly compared to the 1983 version. Overall I have no complaints about him. Tom was portrayed very well, I think these actors were worth the money.
The Crawfords were done very well, and my only complaint was that Miss Crawford looked like she had the capability to be too nice to be Miss Crawford, and needed some more lines to complete our portrait of her misguided character. Mr. Crawford looked too much like Tom in hairstyle and color, I think they should have done something different with his looks.
One of the big disappointments was Aunt Norris. She was too calm. She was not nasty enough.
I did like Lady Bertram, as she was not weird, and even though was she was trying to be shallow, showed that there was some brains there. I do not think it was shown us how much she depended upon Fanny though.
All said, I think this film was on its way to being a pretty good one, but they forgot to consult me in the making of it.
In the Park
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Now for a few brief observations about the 1983 version of Mansfield Park. It is a longer film, and at first does not seem as good quality as other films, as it gives one the impression that it is a stage play instead of a movie. The sound is the opposite of the heavy-breathing dramas we have been watching the past few weeks. In this version, the microphones seem to be up on the ceiling, and it is hard at times to hear the actors.
Sylvestra le Touzel plays as Fanny Price, and I'm afraid the overall impression is that Fanny is very strange. Sylvestra le Touzel over-acts many scenes, in my opinion. The scene where Sir Thomas reprimands her, for instance, is too over-the-top. She does an wonderful job showing Fanny's moral side, however. She is also modest in dress and in behavior, respectful of her Aunts even though she is put upon by one, and shows herself indispensable to the family. The confidante of Edmund, she is not chasing him flirtatiously, but more concerned with his staying true to himself and his principles. Though she loves Edmund, this isn't shown too strongly. What is shown strongly is the trauma and horror Fanny feels in certain situations, as someone who is trying to hold on to what is right in the face of tremendous pressures of the wrong coming into her world. She is a contrast to her cousins, too, which I do not think came out very well in the recent Masterpiece Theater version.
The Visit to the Cottage, The Lady of the Manor Greets Her Bible-Reading Cottage Tenant
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The hero, Edmund, is played by an actor who does a good job at showing the inner struggle of this character, trying to justify things that are not quite right and in the end coming to grips with his mistakes in a very real way. The other Bertram children are cast very well, and despite the number of people in the story, we are able to clearly see each one's character.
Sir Thomas in this version is not a seething rude man, but more like Captain Von Trapp in The Sound of Music. He is trying to run a ship-shape operation, making sure everything is just so, but leaving the spiritual training of his children to others, and not taking care to find out what is going on in his children's heads. He is portrayed as a gentleman of the era, not harsh and bear-like, but formidable enough so that Fanny is a little frightened of him.
Anna Massey does an EXCELLENT portrayal of Aunt Norris. She drove us all crazy and we cringed at her eloquent words and her way of imposing upon the family.
Lady Bertram is very strange indeed- I could not quite understand what was the matter with her.
The Crawfords were slightly over-acted, and I could not stand Miss Crawford's hairstyle (I should tell you that Mr. Yate's hair may be worse). Miss Crawford shows very well her ill-breeding, not in manners but in character, and is quite shocks Fanny with her philosophies and her speeches. I tend to fast-forward the Crawford scenes because I dislike them so, but maybe that means that the filmmakers did their job well.
Though it takes some patience to get through this version, I would recommend it to those interested in more of Mansfield Park.