Billie Piper as Fanny Price in the 2007 BBC Adaptation
There are three Mansfield Park adaptations in existence–a 1983 BBC miniseries, a 1999 feature film, and a 2007 BBC TV movie. The 1983 miniseries is over five hours long and has extremely poor video and audio quality. It is reportedly unfailingly faithful to the original text, which is dandy, but if you want accuracy I recommend just sucking it up and reading the actual book. You’ll have the pleasure of reading Austen’s engaging prose without having to sit through five hours of static and shaky camera maneuvers.
So, let’s compare the 1999 film starring Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller and the 2007 made-for-TV movie featuring Billie Piper and Blake Ritson. The fact is that it would be impossible to adapt Mansfield Park and make it both entertaining and one hundred percent true to the book. Let’s face it: Fanny Price is a pretty unexciting character and would not translate well to the screen unaltered.
These two adaptations take very different approaches to livening up Fanny Price. The 1999 version retains her status as the moral center of the story, but turns her into a sort of feminist icon, obviously very different from the book. This Fanny is brainy and bookish, more interested in writing stories than being fawned over by men. The 2007 version, on the other hand, features a heroine who easily succumbs to peer pressure and seems to have a fairly vapid mind. I’ll let you guess which one I prefer. Furthermore, Piper’s Fanny is positively boisterous–a far cry from the sedate and sickly Fanny of the book. She practically runs everywhere and must resort to off-screen narration to tell us how miserable her life is, because the audience certainly wouldn’t know it from the way she acts.
Jonny Lee Miller and Frances O’Connor in the 1999 Feature Film
The cast of the 2007 adaptation is certainly…pretty, but the older version is just so much better, with Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller perfectly cast in the roles of Fanny and Edmund, not to mention a young Hugh Bonneville playing the bumbling Mr. Rushworth, which is hilarious. This version is also more blatantly sexualized, which might seem a bit odd for a Jane Austen film–this one in particular– but in context it adds more humor to the story than anything.
The 1999 film is well paced and touches on the issue of slavery, a topic that is briefly explored in the novel. At less than ninety minutes long, the 2007 movie is too short to do justice to the novel. Fanny’s trip to Portsmouth is cut from the narrative entirely and little of Austen’s profound social commentary makes it to the screen.
While neither version is strictly true to the novel, the 1999 version does the best job of fleshing out the characters and maintains some level of textual loyalty. The 2007 version is less an adaptation and more of a Regency melodrama that vaguely resembles an old book by the same name.
Mansfield Park is the story of one Fanny Price, removed from the unfortunate circumstances of her birth home to be raised by her wealthy aunt and uncle (the Lady and Sir Thomas Bertram) at their country estate, for which the novel is named. Constantly reminded of her humble origins by the villainous Mrs. Norris and outshone by her cousins, Maria and Julia, Fanny keeps her head down and does as she’s told, taking pleasure in the company of her only true friend and ally, her cousin, Edmund, who she also happens to be in love with. When Sir Thomas is away on business the dazzling Mary Crawford and her charismatic brother, Henry, arrive at Mansfield and stir up a pot of trouble. Edmund falls for Mary, Henry flirts relentlessly with both the Bertram sisters, and a very engaged Maria becomes besotted with him in return.
I am a compulsive cover-to-cover reader. By that I mean that I always read the introduction, notes, afterward, etc., so I know what I’m talking about when I say that many of the modern introductions to popular editions of classic books are seriously lacking. Penguin is generally better at commissioning decent introductions than many other brands out there (I’m talking to you, Modern Library. Jane Eyre deserves so much better.), but I’ve been blinded to their merits and spoiled rotten by Tony Tanner’s introductions to three of Jane Austen’s novels.
Most younger folk probably haven’t read Tanner’s introductions to Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice, and Mansfield Park. The Penguin paperback editions of these three novels have been updated with introductions by Ros Ballaster, Vivien Jones, and Kathryn Sutherland, but Tanner’s introductions, penned in the 1960s, have been retained in the Appendices of each book. I might have been tempted to skip the twenty-five-to-forty page essays had it not been for my obsessive compulsive literary habits, especially after reading the not-atrocious newer introductions at the front of the books.
This is a guest post by Elizabeth Eckhart. Follow her on Twitter @elizeckhart.
The much awaited dystopian action movie Divergent finally opened this week! Based on the young adult novel by Veronica Roth, Divergenttells the story of Tris Prior, an adolescent female living under fascist rule who is forced to make difficult and emotional decisions about her family, friends, and society, and eventually becomes a key player in a revolution.
Sound familiar? Unless you’ve been living under a rock for the past few years, you’ll notice Divergent sounds an awful lot like the Hunger Games trilogy, the wildly popular book and film series by Suzanne Collins (the films sold four million copies its first weekend available, and is still pulling millions in through streamable sources like Amazon, Netflix and DirecTV). Lionsgate/Summit Pictures is undoubtedly attempting to cash in on the craze, and they’ve chosen an acclaimed novel to adapt, but Divergent‘s road to success faces a few high hurdles.
J.K. Rowling caused quite a stir recently when she stated that she now believes Harry and Hermione would have made a better match than Ron and Hermione.
I wrote the Hermione/Ron relationship as a form of wish fulfillment. That’s how it was conceived, really. For reasons that have very little to do with literature and far more to do with me clinging to the plot as I first imagined it, Hermione ended up with Ron.
I know, I’m sorry. I can hear the rage and fury it might cause some fans, but if I’m absolutely honest, distance has given me perspective on that. It was a choice I made for very personal reasons, not for reasons of credibility. Am I breaking people’s hearts by saying this? I hope not.
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