Thursday, August 02, 2007

Mansfield Park

1999, UK, directed by Patricia Rozema

As befits the source novel, Patricia Rozema's adaptation of Mansfield Park is considerably darker than other recent Austen-inspired films, with the horrific spectacle of slavery in the West Indies underpinning the more familiar society whirl that drives the main plotline. Rozema is also more interested than most in scratching the social surface and exploring Austen's depiction of the status of women in Georgian England; the lightness of touch in Pride and Prejudice and Emma are replaced here by the stark realities of social rejection (for sins - and perceived sins - great or small), while the decor is generally much more spare than in the overdressed sets of other period adaptations (the walls of Mansfield Park itself are often strikingly bare).

Rozema's camera works in interesting ways, from stately, classical compositions to unexpected whip pans, and occasional hand-held shots at moments of extreme drama; the camera proves itself supple in adapting to the demands of Austen's melodrama, while there are striking direct-to-camera moments when the heroine, Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor, perfectly coltish), reveals the contents of the letters she writes to her sister. There's also an extraordinary shot near the beginning, as Fanny arrives at Mansfield Park for the first time, when the lush lawns take on the appearance of the flowing sea in the half-light of night.

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Boston, Massachusetts, United States