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Film / Mansfield Park

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Mansfield Park is the 1999 adaptation of the Jane Austen novel of the same name, written and directed by Patricia Rozema and starring Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price. It is famous (or infamous) for its alterations to the source material. As Fanny was the most shy, timid, and unassuming of Austen's protagonists, Rozema made the character more outspoken and lively... largely by combining the character's traits with those of Austen herself.

Another major plot point is that of slavery, which the novel implies is the source of the Bertram wealth. The film brings the issue to the fore by making it part of the rift between Sir Thomas and his children, as well as a graphic depiction of its horrors late in the film.

Besides this, and a few other alterations to compress events, the movie follows the plot of the book. Frances Price, having married beneath her station, is obliged to give up her eldest daughter Fanny to her relatives at Mansfield Park. Fanny goes to live at the grand mansion under the care of her forbidding uncle Sir Thomas, his indolent wife Lady Bertram, and her tyrannical aunt Mrs Norris. Her cousins are the haughty Maria and Julia and irresponsible Tom, leaving her with no friend in the world but the younger son Edmund. As the years go by, Fanny becomes an intelligent young woman (though nobody asks for her opinion) and a mutual attraction develops between herself and Edmund.

However, Fanny Price remains a poor ward of the family in everyone's eyes and by default becomes a kind of genteel servant at Mansfield. The status quo is interrupted when, during Sir Thomas's absence, Mary and Henry Crawford arrive in the neighborhood. Both are witty, charming, and attractive, and shortly thereafter Tom and his friend Yates introduce the idea of home theatricals—using a trashy, salacious play called Lovers' Vows. Maria, despite being engaged, flirts outrageously with Henry, while Edmund and Mary soon fall for each other. Things get more complicated when Henry transfers his attentions to the aloof Fanny and Sir Thomas returns ready to see his children and his ward dutifully married.

The film provides examples of:

  • Adaptational Angst Upgrade: Tom's wastrelry is motivated by his frustrated artistic inclinations and his disgust for being wealthy by the labor of slaves. When Sir Thomas takes him to Antigua in an effort to teach him responsibility, Tom returns even worse and drinks himself nearly to death.
  • Adaptation Expansion: The implication that the Bertrams are funded by slave plantations becomes a major plot point. Edmund, Fanny, and Tom all argue with Sir Thomas over the morality of slavery, as well as the legally-murky status of it; abolition had been passed within England but not in colonies like Antigua. The brutalizing of slaves is depicted graphically in a memorable scene late in the film, and casts a pall over the character of Sir Thomas.
  • Adaptational Villainy: Sir Thomas appears in Tom's sketchbook chronicle of the horrors on the Antigua plantation. His treatment of Fanny is also worse—while in the book he developed a genuine paternal affection for her after his return from Antigua, he here views her as an object to be married off and his assessment of her matured looks comes off as creepy. He realizes the error of his ways at the end of the film.
  • Adapted Out: Fanny's slightly-older brother William is written out. Instead, her Pen Pal relationship and sibling bond is transferred to her younger sister Susan.
  • Almost Kiss: Between Fanny and Edmund after her return from Portsmouth.
  • The Alcoholic:
    • Tom Bertram is nearly always drunk when he's onscreen.
    • Fanny's father, Lieutenant Price, is almost The Drunken Sailor except that he was a marine, not a sailor. His children take turns rousing him from his hangover each day.
  • Awful Wedded Life: Despite believing that wealth and status will compensate for her fiance's stupidity, Maria quickly discovers that marriage to him feels like a prison.
  • Be Careful What You Wish For: Early in the plot, Fanny describes life at Mansfield Park as "a quick succession of busy nothings" in a letter to Susan. Shortly thereafter, the Crawford siblings move into the local parsonage and turn the lives of the Bertram family upside down.
  • Breaking Speech: There is a montage of Sir Thomas lecturing and browbeating Fanny over the course of two days, who increasingly sports a Thousand-Yard Stare, for her refusal to accept Henry Crawford.
  • Break Them by Talking: Mary Crawford tries this when she offers her advice to the Bertrams in the aftermath of her brother eloping with Maria. She deals with each objection in a way calculated to work on the character of the objecter: Sir Thomas she quietly interrupts, knowing that he won't talk over her, and Fanny she coldly puts in her place, unfairly blaming her for the whole fiasco. However, she didn't anticipate Edmund's answer...
  • Call-Back: Shortly before her marriage to Rushworth, Maria overhears Henry Crawford and Fanny as he reads Laurence Sterne's Sentimental Journey aloud to her, detailing the plight of a caged starling and the narrator's attempts to free it as an allegory for slavery and captivity. When her affair with Mr Crawford is discovered, Maria (perhaps unknowingly) quotes the starling's lament "I can't get out" as she attempts to justify herself to Edmund.
    Maria: Don't look at me like that, Edmund! Rushworth is a fool, you know that, and I can't get out! Edmund - I can't get out!
  • Calling the Old Man Out: Tom, Edmund, and Fanny all criticize the basis of the family's wealth to varying degrees. Sir Thomas dismisses them.
  • Catapult Nightmare: Fanny appears to have had one of these when she sits up in bed abruptly, having realised that she was wrong to accept Henry Crawford's offer of marriage.
  • Comically Missing the Point: When Fanny has rejected Henry Crawford's offer of marriage for the first time, Sir Thomas and Mrs Norris take turns to tell her what a pathetic, ungrateful little idiot she is. Then Lady Bertram chimes in, and it looks as though she's about to give her own opinion on the matter—but all she does is sleepily promise Fanny that, when her dog has puppies, Fanny can have one of them.
  • Darker and Edgier: Between Fanny's backstory, the scandal precipitated by Maria and Henry, and the horrific depictions of slavery, this is one of the darker films you'll see based on Austen's work. The source material itself was by Austen's words much less "light, bright, and sparkling" than her other comedies of manners.
  • Deadpan Snarker: Although she is usually polite and mild in person (though still more talkative than in the book), Fanny unleashes her true opinions of life at Mansfield to her little sister Susan via letter. And sometimes in person.
    Mrs Norris: [annoyed that Fanny has returned to Mansfield Park to help look after sick Thomas] How long are you staying?
    Fanny: I really have no idea, Mrs Norris. How long are you staying?
  • Demoted to Extra:
    • Julia Bertram. Her attraction to Henry Crawford is still there, but toned down; instead the jealous competition for Henry is a one-sided one between Maria and Fanny (who doesn't actually want him) and the drama over her exclusion from amateur dramatics doesn't come into play.
    • Yates, though not a major character, does have some memorable scenes from the novel (such as when Sir Thomas walks into the master bedroom to find Yates ranting his lines as hammily as he can). Also, in the novel Julia and Yates elope and get married; in the movie Julia just gets a letter from his, indicating he might want to court her.
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Tom is the 19th-century equivalent to a drunken fratboy, partially because he's Idle Rich and then because he's trying to drink away the horrors he saw on his family's Antigua plantation.
  • Evil Uncle:
    • Aunt Norris seems to have brought Fanny to Mansfield primarily to emotionally abuse and humiliate her. She is a mix of Evil Aunt and Evil Stepmother.
    • Sir Thomas comes off as a much worse moral character here. Along with the implications of slavery being spelled out, he is dismissive of Fanny's opinions, his realization that She Is All Grown Up is based entirely on her looks, and he expels her from Mansfield as punishment for refusing Henry.note 
  • Heel Realization: Sir Thomas, after shredding Tom's sketchbook into the fire, seems to be deeply distressed. He also acknowledges that he's done very wrong by his children and offers a tacit apology to Fanny for dismissing her throughout the film.
  • Homoerotic Subtext: Between Fanny and Mary Crawford. After spotting Fanny walking in the rain, Mary gleefully tows her into the Parsonage and helps her undress to get dry with many lingering looks as she unlaces things. She also seems as keen to rehearse her romantic lines from Lover's Vows on Fanny as she is on Edmund.
  • Hotter and Sexier: The sexual subtext of the book is kicked up. Maria and Henry's affair is discovered when Fanny walks in on them in bed.
  • Irony: At the end of the film, Sir Thomas divests the family business from slavery and takes up something more morally acceptable... tobacco.
  • Kissing Cousins: Fanny and Edmund's feelings for each other are quite beyond family, this being the 19th century.
  • Laser-Guided Karma:
    • Maria and Mrs Norris are banished to a cottage in the country, where they drink wine by the mug, and Fanny supposes that they each act as the other's penance.
    • Mary and Henry find a husband and wife of the same status and character as themselves. A significant look implies that their spouses start an affair with each other.
  • Let No Crisis Go to Waste: When everything has gone wrong, Mary Crawford plays this trope in a speech that's couched in terms of being useful, realistic, worldly advice from a well-meaning friend. Subverted, in that it's actually her last and boldest attempt to undermine them and force them to accept her as the de facto boss of the house, and is therefore an example of Break Them by Talking. Fanny sees it for what it is, but has no hope that the others will recognise it; everyone else is so stunned that they don't know what to do. Fortunately, Edmund tells Mary, in the politest possible language, to go fuck herself.
  • Love at First Sight: Inverted with Mary Crawford and Tom. She had been looking forward to meeting the heir of Mansfield Park, being something of a Gold Digger. But he arrives at home with a layabout friend, confessing that they'd spent all their cash, and then falls over legless and belching from drink. She's clearly disgusted, and from then on sets her sights on Edmund despite his (comparatively) poorer prospects.
  • Marry for Love: Mrs Price reminds Fanny that she did marry for love herself and only wound up poor, careworn, and run ragged. She more than implies that Fanny should marry her rich suitor.
  • Meaningful Appearance: Maria, Julia and Mary Crawford all wear fashionable women's clothing, but when Fanny is at Mansfield Park, her main costume is a black skirt and black waistcoat over a white shirt—rather like a clergyman, in fact. Fitting since she is the moral centre of the story. Whenever she wears anything else, she's either at Portsmouth, taking part in some entertainment, or else it's the end of the film and she's already engaged to Edmund.
  • Pet the Dog: When Maria enters his study to discuss her upcoming wedding, Sir Thomas assumes that she wants to cancel it and immediately offers to take care of it himself, as he'd rather do that than have her marry unhappily no matter how good the alliance is. She, however, is determined to go through with it.
  • Refuge in Audacity: Henry Crawford uses this in a daring gamble to impress the Bertrams with his sophistication. It works.
    Henry Crawford: Well, you seem like a dreary lot.
  • Rich Bitch: Maria in particular. She cares for nothing but her own comfort and status, is well-aware of her own beauty, and looks down on the man she decides to marry.
  • Right Behind Me: Edmund walks in while Mary is busy listing all the reasons she can't abide members of the clergy, unaware that he plans to take orders.
  • Spirited Young Lady: Fanny is one of Jane Austen's most timid creations; a girl from a poor family who is sent to be brought up by her rich and genteel relatives. In this adaptation, her character is transformed into a lively and self-assured young woman — and her character traits, interests and life events are inspired by Jane Austen's own life. Fanny's interest in writing and sharp wit are Austen's, the parodic History of England she pens is taken from Austen's junevilia and some of the book's Lemony Narrator makes it into her dialogue. Additionally, the scenes where she accepts Henry Crawford's proposal and then realizes she can't go through with it are based on events from Austen's life.
  • Time Passes Montage: Fanny goes from a girl to a young woman over the course of her letters back home.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Mr Rushworth. As Edmund observes, his 12,000 a year is all that keeps him from being considered a very stupid fellow indeed.