Mansfield Park is a bit special to me among the six completed Austen novels. I actually saw the 1983 tv series before reading the book and I read it a few years later than others because of availability issues.
The general plot for those who have not read it: Fanny's parents have more children than they can afford and lives with her rich aunt's family. She is constantly reminded that she is not equal to her cousins. The family gets close to charming and shallow Crawfords and several relationships develop. She is the only one who sees them for what they are. Eventually the family starts to realise the timid and highly moral Fanny's worth while her female cousins demonstrate lack of virtue and principles and she gets married to the cousin she has loved all along.
Besides rereading the book I watched three adaptations - one series and two movies. With Mansfield Park the problem is that Fanny is not an attractive character. Austen's own mother called her insipid. She is shy, timid, highly moral and infinitely grateful for any small kindness. We are used to have heroines who rebel against the parents' conservative ways. Sparkling, lively , charismatic people, Fanny is exactly the opposite. At least the two latest adaptations try to "fix" it by giving Fanny some more spirit. It is hardly the same story.
The three versions are very different despite having mostly the same dialogue and events. The most important point here is Fanny's character. The versions I saw were 1983 tv series and 199 and 2007 movies.
1983 tv series is probably as close to book as you can get. Eighties Austen adaptations are not nearly as visually pleasing as the later ones and feel more like theatre at parts. The characters in this one do speak rather theatrically here. Whether it is the production or is the clear and practised speech with distinct emphasis on every other word supposed to reflect the the social customs of the time, I'm not sure. I suspect the latter. Still quite distracting. Another thing I'm not sure of is whether it was the subtle emphasis of the production or the fact that I was watching the same story for the nth time, but for me this version made the most clear what was so wrong in climbing through a gate or home theatricals, even more than the book. The words are the same, but Crawford feels very wicked tempting Maria to go past the gate. It is not really the gate they breach, is it? At places some lines felt unnatural like they were info dropping. The series as a whole is like Fanny, not without merit, but does not catch your attention with particular spark.
1999 version completely took out Fanny and put Jane Austen in her situation and then added slavery and feminism issues. The new Fanny makes it possible for more social comedy. The image of mr Norris literally dropping dead during dinner, lady Bertram high on opium, the exaggerated reactions to the Crawfords. It also addresses more a woman's dilemma of poverty against loveless marriage. And then there is the slavery. It doesn't feel quite right in Mansfield Park. The original only mentions it once. Fanny asks her uncle a question (we are not told what it is) and he is happy to educate and sad that it isn't one of his own daughters. As an original film it all could work and work well, as an adaptation of the novel it fails. Of all the versions this one feels the most like a big drama
2007 version is in many ways between the two. It tries to give us Fanny that is a bit less of a doormat and more noticeable, yet keep the reactions to her the same. And to catch up with that, the other characters' flaws are emphasised as well, so we would get it in the first scene they are in. I think it tries to take on too much for its short length without having time to properly develop relationships etc. It's neither here nor there. I have seen worse movies, but what bugs me is that it butchers Fanny's character while still carrying the airs of being faithful to the book. At least it was visually pleasing.
The way Fanny is depicted is such an integral part of the story that a lot has already been said about her. 1983 Fanny rarely showed her emotions. Sometimes when she spoke she gave the impression of lecturing. In both book and this version she is really enthusiastic about natural beauties etc. It feels fake to feel it to that extent, yet I know she is sincere. What makes it worse is that Edmund taught her to feel that way. I have nothing against cousin marriage, but to through in Pygmalion is taking it too far like it wasn't enough for lady Bertram to need her husband's opinion in things like which card game she would prefer. 1999 Fanny is sharp tongued and witty. She runs about the house and doesn't have a problem with talking back to sir Thomas if needed. Edmund is the supporter of her literary exploits. He is in love with her all the time, he just doesn't notice or doesn't act on it. While book Fanny had frail health, 2007 Fanny also doesn't have a problem with running around the house. They gave her loose blonde curls and a big smile. She is always smiling and laughing a hearty laugh. How is she supposed to be the unnoticeable poor relation is beyond me. She also tells aunt Norris about an errand she has when she wants to go riding with Edmund. Her gratitude is tuned town to the point where from her introductory speech you could feel she thinks she was treated poorly. She is right, it's just not a Fanny thing to think.
The 1999 and 2007 Edmunds fell for miss Crawford's charms much earlier than in book and 1983 versions do. In 1983 he is basically what he is in the book - Fanny's best friend, mentor and the man who shaped her into what she is. Looks like the newer versions feel the way I do and leave the part where he taught her what to think and how to feel and concentrated on their companionship instead. Is 1999 version genuinely in love with miss Crawford? He later tells he has loved Fanny all his life and several people suspect a connection early in the story. He is charmed by her though, it takes some time before he starts to talk about her flaws. the original Edmund was the opposite, he saw the flaws first, but influenced by her charm, he finds them excusable. Nothing much to say about the 2007 Edmund except that in the end when he suddenly decided to be in love with Fanny, he was a rather annoying lovesick fool.
The first thing that comes to mind when thinking of 1983 Mary is the short hair. How often do you see a female character from that time period with short hair? 1999 miss Crawford more experienced with the ways of the world. I know the character is supposed to and they are, but somehow with this version I felt it more keenly. In the end she does more than she does in the book. To really get the point across about her character, she doesn't mention it in a letter to his cousin, she tells about the merits of Tom's passing away in front of his whole family while he is sick. 2007 Mary is served wicked from the very beginning. While walking to Mansfield Park for the very first time she tells about her plans for the eldest son, in the next scene she is flashing Edmund her stockings. It feels like with all the upgrading Fanny gets, it was felt necessary to make miss Crawford's faults more obvious.
Again and again I find myself with nothing to say about the 1983 depiction of the character. It follows the book. 1999 mr Crawford doesn't need his self-made challenge to make Fanny fall in love with him to start to notice her. With him it might actually be true that if Fanny had not refused him the next day after accepting his proposal which 1999 Fanny does, he might have left mrs Rushworth alone. 2007 does seam to need his charming personality to help his average looks - all it took for Maria Bertram was a single look.
Mrs Norris and the rest of the Bertrams
1983 mrs Norris is a horrible nag who only sees where she can gain something cheaply, how she can guide other people, her darling miss Bertrams and the need to look out that Fanny doesn't feel equal to them. 1999 version feels somewhat crueller, but less outwardly silly. I don't think any of the others would go as far as reprimand Fanny for being in company and sending her away to do some chores and all that in front of guests. 2007 mrs Norris is... dismissive? of Fanny. True, she reminds her of her place, but she is not nearly as devoted to it as the other versions. i was surprised when I learned that the 2007 character was mrs Norris when I first saw her. She looked too much a well groomed lady like her sister.
1983 lady Bertram is really out of it like she was in a permanent state of confusion. Even her voice drags. 1999 version gives to it some explanation by having her on some kind of drugs. 2007 Mrs Bertram is surprisingly alert and going as far as playing the matchmaker for Edmund and Fanny.
Sir Thomas mostly appears rather kind in 1983. With 2007 I can understand the severe character that made Fanny fear him without proper cause in the book. 1999 sir Thomas is something else. He is the slave owner giving the appropriately ignorant speeches occasionally showing despotic behaviour with his children. He only sees looks in Fanny, he's bad relationship with Tom is because of this and not his eldest son's spending habits.
Maria is mostly the same everywhere. Julia is more sympathetic in 1999 and doesn't elope. 2007 can't elope because Mr Yates doesn't exist. I don't remember her doing anything in the movie.
Completely random, but their parents really do love naming children after themselves, don't they? *looks at Tom, Maria and Fanny* I wouldn't be surprised if Fanny's father's name was William. And we never learn what is Mrs Norris's.
Propriety and kissing
Austen novels don't have any kisses. Adaptations almost always have.
1980 has Mr Crawford and Maria kissing while "rehearsing" their mother-son scene. And again when he tries to get close to her again. That is meant to be improper. They are seen by Mr Rushworth's mother right away. I wonder if there had been any hope of Crawford changing his mind if it hadn't happened so fast.
1999 Fanny lets herself be comforted by Crawford and cry in his arms. She accepts his proposal, it is followed by public kissing. And then she changes her mind the next day. I know Austen did it herself, but I can't see book!Fanny doing it. With Maria and Crawford we are treated an actual rather revealing sex scene. At Mansfield Park. And Fanny walks in on them. After giving it some thought I'm surprised Edmund didn't do anything about it. At this point only he and Fanny knew. Instead he chooses to walk out and almost kiss Fanny. The next day the lovers are gone and the following scandal shames the whole family. Later he and Fanny come to an understanding and again there is public kissing. His parent see and all they have to say is "at last some development".
2007 had Crawford and Fanny almost kissing if she hadn't turned away at the last moment. Later Edmund and Fanny kiss before he has even proposed, without even asking about her feelings first. On their wedding day they waltz. True, they are married and the others are making surprised faces, but of all the characters those two?
This has become long enough. I have made picspams of all the versions to share more pictures of fashions and and anything else that caught my attention. 1983, 1999 and 2007
And now I go to sleep.