Mansfield Park

Directed by Patricia Rozema
Starring: Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Harold Pinter, Lindsay Duncan.
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief violent images, sexual content and drug use.

Review by Matt Heffernan
January 7, 2000

The 1990's had seen a resurgence in filming the novels of Jane Austen. Many of them have been great, setting a standard for British and American period films. The last Austen film of the decade is based on one of her most personal works: Mansfield Park. Will this film keep in that fine tradition? Well, let's see.

At the turn of the 19th century, young Fanny Price (Hannah Taylor-Gordon) is sent to the estate of Mansfield Park, which is the home of her aunts: Mrs. Norris (Sheila Gish) and Lady Bertram (Lindsay Duncan). Her mother (also played by Duncan, but you wouldn't recognize her) chose a life of poverty a long time ago, because she married for love and not a grander name. She feels that the intelligent Fanny could benefit from leaving the slums of Portsmouth.

After several years of growing up with her rich cousins, Fanny (now played by Frances O'Connor) finds herself of marrying age. She has become very close to her cousin Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller), the only person at Mansfield Park who has treated her as an equal. She is really in love with him, but her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram (Harold Pinter), wants her to marry Henry Crawford (Alessandro Nivola), a young Parson. He also wishes that Edmund married Henry's sister, Mary (Embeth Davidtz).

This is a very typical Austen story, with whole lot of characters, and a whole lot of romance. The trademark wit is there, but something is missing. Director Patricia Rozema has some interesting ideas; unfortunately, she put many of them in the wrong film. One major distraction was having Fanny address the camera. That and a few other touches, especially the ending, are more suitable for a play, which is probably what Rozema should have made.

What she has made is still entertaining, and quite a bit classier than most films out today. The supporting cast, especially, is exceptional, stealing the show from the young stars. Those characters are often quite amusing, in an "Upper-class Twit" sort of way.

It's really quite amazing that Austen has managed to stay so popular for the last 200 years. More films will follow, including a version of Northanger Abbey, written by Andrew Davies (who wrote the 1997 Emma mini-series). Some careers are even anchored by these films, including Miller, who made his debut as a child in the 1983 mini-series of Mansfield Park. Because of Trainspotting, however, he'll always be "Sick Boy" to me.

For more information, go to the Internet Movie Database:
Mansfield Park (1999)

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Mansfield Park, a novel by Jane Austen -- Audio Cassette (read by Maureen O'Brien)
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Review © 2000 Matt Heffernan