There are three feature film versions of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Next to Pride and Prejudice, that particular Austen novel is my favorite. So, I was happy to discover film versions – sad but true. Now, I first saw the 1999 version before ever having read the book. I absolutely loved it! I loved Alessandro Nivola as the dastardly Mr. Henry Crawford and Frances O’Connor was a vivacious Fanny Price. I still love that movie version. It is a unique blend of biography (Austen’s) and fiction (obviously, the book Mansfield Park). There are points where I wish it would follow the book a little more closely, but I really can’t complain with the acting or the script.
Afterwards, I learned of another version. This one made in 1983 starring Sylvestra La Touzel as Miss Price. Now, I love this version because it follows the book so well, hence it’s six hour length. However, I do not like the fact that there is a lot of over-reacting. Too much, in fact. Mostly on the part of Ms. La Touzel. I think that her histrionics are over-the-top and unbelievable (such as when Sir Thomas chastises Fanny for not wanting to marry Mr. Crawford). That is really the worst part of the entire film. Other than that, there really is nothing else to detract from the greatness of a good adaptation of the book.
Now, I caught part of Mansfield Park (2007) on PBS one night. Bad reception deemed I would not get to watch it. But I recently acquired the film and must say I could not get through it at all. Which, I suppose, is horrible to say since it was only 1.5 hours. The reason? Bad acting, bad costumes, bad make-up and, most importantly, a bad Fanny. Miss Price is not some wild girl with unkempt clothes and hair (her corset was always peeking out of an extremely low cut bodice) and her hair looked like it never saw a brush in it’s life. Now, the 1999 version had a more outspoken Fanny, but that worked for the film and the actress. It seemed to fit just right. In this film, it seems scandalous. Maybe because it was so atrociously done. Also, Lady Bertram’s character is horribly rendered as a gossipy, holier-than-thou matriarch. Heaven forbid! Making Tom Bertram and Mr. Yates into one character is deplorable (especially since Julia Bertram becomes attached to Yates).
One must wonder what the writers were thinking. There are enough Jane Austen aficionados still today who will descry the ’07 version. If you cannot remain true to the characters and you employ bad acting, the wrong clothing of the time and a too-swift moving plot, I doubt there is anyone who can enjoy it.
I do find that after watching the 4-6 hour versions of book adaptations, I lose interest in the 1.5-2 hour versions, mainly because they do not follow the books so well and cut out sometimes integral (at least in my eyes) scenes. However, I still enjoy the ’99 version after seeing the ’83. I don’t know how anyone could like the ’07 version.