Mansfield Park

USA/UK 1999

Reviewed by Andy Richards


Our synopses give away the plot in full, including surprise twists.

England, the early 19th century. Fanny Price leaves her home in Portsmouth to live with wealthy relatives on their vast country estate Mansfield Park. There, she is treated as a social inferior by her aunt and uncle, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, and her cousins Tom, Maria and Julia. Only Edmund, the Bertram's second son, treats her kindly.

Fanny grows into a spirited young woman. Sir Thomas departs on a business trip to his plantations in Antigua, accompanied by Tom. The Mansfield routine is disrupted by the arrival of charismatic siblings Henry and Mary Crawford. Henry flirts with Maria, despite her engagement to Mr Rushworth; Mary has designs on Edmund. Tom returns from Antigua, and proposes putting on a play. The rehearsals are a pretext for much unseemly flirtation by the Crawfords, but the performance is prevented by the return of Sir Thomas.

Maria marries Mr Rushmore. A debut ball is held in honour of Fanny, where Henry declares his love for her. Secretly in love with Edmund, she spurns him, enraging Sir Thomas who sends her back to Portsmouth. She is abruptly recalled to Mansfield Park when Tom falls ill. While nursing Tom, Fanny discovers some of his sketches of abuses against the Antiguan slaves. She also finds Henry in bed with Maria, who then runs off with him. Mary's callous behaviour repels Edmund. Soon after Tom recovers, Edmund confesses his love for Fanny which she reciprocates.


Given the recent spate of Jane Austen adaptations (notably, Ang Lee's Sense and Sensibility, Douglas McGrath's Emma and the BBC productions of Persuasion and Pride and Prejudice), one could be forgiven for anticipating diminishing returns from what is widely viewed as the author's least satisfying and most intractably moralistic work. But that would be to reckon without the contribution of Canadian director Patricia Rozema who, disdaining a purist approach, offers some smart and suggestive variations on the usual Regency rituals.

Rozema's previous features (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and When Night Is Falling) have all dealt with meek, repressed female protagonists who are initiated into new social and cultural worlds, before attaining self-sufficiency. In this respect, Austen's Fanny, who arrives at Mansfield Park a timid and socially unsure young woman only to become an indispensable member of the household, would seem to be another variant on Rozema's heroines.

Yet the Fanny of Rozema's film, as incarnated by a radiant Frances O'Connor, is resolutely all the things the Fanny of the novel is not: vivacious, artistic, even sexy - a self-confessed "wild beast". This Fanny is, in fact, something of a hybrid of Austen's heroine and the novelist herself (Fanny's stories and her updates to her sister Susan are based on Austen's own early writings and letters). In Fanny, Rozema creates a screen heroine we can root for (more in the mould of Pride and Prejudice's Elizabeth Bennet), and a film that stands alongside the rest of her oeuvre as a paean to female artistic and romantic independence.

Rozema's emancipatory agenda is significantly different from the novel's more sober, stoic preoccupation with the upholding of true moral consciousness through abstinence and self-denial. Austen's Fanny, as the unimpeachable repository of older, High Tory values, must strike modern sensibilities as something of a prig. Rozema's heroine, on the other hand, is a modern woman oppressed by an antiquated patriarchal society. To throw this theme into sharper relief, Rozema has chosen to make the slavery issue (fleetingly alluded to in the novel) explicit. At one point, Fanny mortifies her family by raising the subject of abolition. The scene in which she discovers Tom's sketches of atrocities (gang rape included) committed against the slaves on his father's Antiguan plantations is shocking in its deliberate rupturing of the film's predominantly genteel mise en scène.

Rozema's point is that Mansfield Park, and the amorous escapades of its wealthy inhabitants, are founded on and sustained by this debased form of exploitation. This is certainly an intriguing opening-out of the novel, but in doing so the film appropriates the moral high ground in a way that further distances it from the delicacy and ambiguity of Austen's insights.

Rozema might shift the moral dynamics of the tale to suit our modern broad-stroke sensibilities, but she also has fun with the novel's romantic conventions. The initial entrance of the glamorous, seductive Crawfords is played as a comic cliché, a languorous camera tilt up their bodies intercut with hot flushes from the assembled onlookers. The central ball scene - filmed with candle-lit intimacy and rhapsodic camera swirls - and a couple of fanciful sapphic interludes between Fanny and Embeth Davidtz's serpentine, cigar-smoking Mary Crawford also confirm this as the most overtly erotic of Austen adaptations to date.


Patricia Rozema
Sarah Curtis
Patricia Rozema
Based on the novel by Jane Austen and on her letters and journals
Director of Photography
Michael Coulter
Martin Walsh
Production Designer
Christopher Hobbs
Lesley Barber
©Miramax HAL Films Ltd.
Production Companies
Miramax Films and BBC Films present in association with the Arts Council of
England a Miramax HAL Films production
Supported by the
National Lottery through the Arts Council of England
Executive Producers
Trea Hoving
David Aukin
Colin Leventhal
David M. Thompson
Bob Weinstein
Harvey Weinstein
Line Producer
Cathy Lord
Associate Producer
Allon Reich
Executive in Charge of Production
Sara Geater
Script Executive
Miramax HAL Films:
Christian Colson
Production Co-ordinators
Julia Bennett
Miramax HAL Films:
Laura Madden
Production Manager
Hilary Benson
Location Managers
Bill Darby
Greg Jordan
Post-production Supervisor
Tania Windsor Blunden
Assistant Directors
Mary Soan
Mark Layton
Candy Marlowe
Alexander Oakley
2nd Unit:
Ken Tuohy
Script Supervisor
Diana Dill
Gail Stevens
Crowd ADR Group:
Marcella Riordan
2nd Unit Director of Photography
Chris Plevin
Aerial Photography
Flight Logistics
Hover-Cam Ltd
Aerial Photography Pilots/Operators
Philip George
John Jennings
Mike Parker
Aerial Photography Cameraman
Gifford Hooper
Camera Operator
Philip Sindall
Steadicam Operators
Peter Cavaciutti
Jan Pester
Digital Visual Effects
The Computer Film Company
Digital Visual Effects Supervisor:
Tim Webber
Digital Visual Effects Producer:
Drew Jones
Senior Digital Compositing Artists:
Robert Duncan
Tom Debenham
Digital Paint Artist:
Alex Paymen
Digital Scanning/Recording:
Steve Tizzard
Special Effects
Evolution FX
Special Effects Supervisor:
Richard Van Den Berg
Special Effects Technicians:
Matthew Granger
Mark Meddings
Alan Hawes
Gary Cohen
Art Director
Andrew Munro
Set Decorator
Patricia Edwards
Tom's Painting/Original Slave Drawings
Christopher Hobbs
Sarah Tozer
Scenic Artists
Alice Milburn Foster
Steve Mitchell
Costume Designer
Andrea Galer
Wardrobe Mistress
Cynthea Dowling
Veronica Brebner
Additional Artist:
Paul Gooch
Hair/Make-up Artists
Astrid Schikorra
Tamsin Dorling
Helen Smith
Liz Tag
Title Sequence
Film Opticals
General Screen Enterprises
Glass Harmonica:
Alisdair Malloy
Hurdy Gurdy:
Nigel Eaton
Frank Ricotti
Music Conductors
Nick Ingman
James Shearman
Orchestra Leader
Gavyn Wright
Additional Orchestrations
Nick Ingman
James Shearman
Music Supervisor
Bob Last
Music Engineers
Steve McLaughlin
Nick Wollage
"Djongna (Slavery)" by/performed by Salif Keita
Jane Gibson
Production Sound Mixer
Peter Glossop
Re-recording Mixers
Ray Merrin
Graham Daniel
Supervising Sound Editor
Glenn Freemantle
Dialogue Editor
Max Hoskins
Andie Derrick
Peter Burgis
Miriam Ludbrook
Animals Supplied by
Emma Hepple
Embeth Davidtz
Mary Crawford
Jonny Lee Miller
Edmund Bertram
Alessandro Nivola
Henry Crawford
Frances O'Connor
Fanny Price
Harold Pinter
Sir Thomas Bertram
Lindsay Duncan
Lady Bertram/Frances Price
Sheila Gish
Mrs Norris
Victoria Hamilton
Maria Elizabeth Bertram
James Purefoy
Tom Bertram
Hugh Bonneville
Mr Rushworth
Justine Waddell
Julia Frances Bertram
Hannah Taylor Gordon
young Fanny
Talya Gordon
young Susan
Bruce Byron
carriage driver
Elizabeth Eaton
young Maria
Elizabeth Earl
young Julia
Philip Sarson
young Edmund
Amelia Warner
teenage Fanny
Charles Edwards
Sophia Myles
Hilton McRae
Mr Price
Anna Popplewell
Danny Worters
boy with bird cart
Gordon Reid
Doctor Winthrop
Jack Murphy
Peter Curtis
Emma Flett
Wendy Woodbridge
ballroom dancers
Buena Vista International (UK)
10,094 feet
112 minutes 10 seconds
Dolby digital
Colour by
Last Updated: 20 Dec 2011