Reviewed by: Robin Joy Wardzala
Starring: Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Embeth Davidtz, Harold Pinter | Director: Patricia Rozema | Producer: Sarah Curtis | Writers: Patricia Rozema, Jane Austen (novel) | Distributed by: Miramax
While the plot of “Mansfield Park” is predictably formulaic and very similar to Jane Austen’s other novels, there is a hint of poignancy and introspection that gives the film some depth. The principle characters are all unique and somewhat quirky in their own way. As a matter of fact, it is their personalities that keep the story interesting.
The film’s premise is fairly simple. Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor), is an outspoken girl with a creative mind and an affinity for writing. At a young age, she is sent to live with her aunt at Mansfield Park, an elegant English estate. As she grows up, she forms a deep friendship with the estate owner’s son, Edmond Bertram. Her comfortable life changes when the dashing Henry Crawford and his sister Mary move into the parsonage next-door. The Bertram sisters, Julia and Mariah, both fall for Henry. Mariah is engaged to be married to a rich, ignorant slob, but this doesn’t stop her from throwing herself at the handsome stranger. Edmond is captivated by Mary, making Fanny rather jealous. Eventually, though, Fanny is offered a proposal, and must decide whether to marry for money or wait for love.
Potential viewers should be aware that there is a strong sexual undercurrent throughout the film that is somewhat unsettling. One particular scene involves a married woman in bed with another man. Nothing except the man’s bare back is shown, but the implications are obvious. Also, Fanny is shown flipping through a sketchbook with graphic pictures of slaves being tortured and sexually abused. This is rather disturbing, but the effect is lessened by the fact that Fanny flips the pictures very quickly. Slavery is a recurring theme in this film, and is portrayed in several different ways. One involves the captivity and treatment of African-American slaves. Another more subtle reference shows Fanny’s life as that of a person who is trapped in a situation and can’t get out; a slave to circumstances.
Nevertheless, “Mansfield Park” has several good qualities. It is very unusual to find such a clean film. There is absolutely no foul language, and Fanny is everything one could hope for in a heroine. She also believes in going to church and appears to hold Christian beliefs. Another positive element is Edmond’s decision to go to seminary school and study to become a parson.
Aside from the aforementioned disturbing elements, I found this film to be a quality piece of movie-making with a wonderfully satisfying happy ending.