Yesterday, I watched the absolute worst adaptation of a Jane Austen I’ve ever seen. I’ve not seen all that many of them, but I have seen my fair share of 19th century England period pieces and this was, by far, the worst. Mansfield Park from 1999…bleh.
I hadn’t read Mansfield Park at the time of watching, but I could tell within twenty minutes that something was amiss. The characters were not speaking in the 19th century mannerisms and, at several moments in the film, I wondered if these were indeed British actors as the acting was so bland and uninspired and I’d grown accustomed to expecting much, much more from British actors.
Also unlike other adaptations I’ve seen, I did not care about the characters at all. In watching Mansfield Park, I didn’t necessarily care for Fanny, the heroine, or care if she ever married or found happiness. I also didn’t care about her beau-to-be Edmund, whom I found duller than even Fanny. I didn’t care whether Edmund married another girl and, the way the story was set, I wasn’t even sure until the very end of the movie if Fanny and Edmund loved each other and would end up together.
There was also a lot of discussion about slavery throughout the film which, while interesting in concept, never went anywhere. It was as if everyone on the screen was talking about physics and all of a sudden Fanny mentioned something about slavery…and then it was never discussed again. It was like some kind of forced theme to make someone who did not care for Jane Austen’s story find something interesting about the plot.
I compare this adaptation to the 1995 Sense and Sensibility. I hadn’t read Sense and Sensibility prior to watching, but within the first ten minutes of the film, I loved the Dashwood sisters and was interested to see if they would find a suitable place to live on their pittance or if they would be forced to stay with their half-brother and his horrible wife. Later, I was just as heartbroken as Elinor when Edward did not arrive at the cottage and when she learned about Lucy’s involvement and then was just as stressed out when Edward did arrive in London when Lucy was visiting. Equally, I was just as excited to see Willoughby at the ball in London as Marianne and cried with her when she had her heart broken as well. There was none of this in Mansfield Park in which the writer and director had the audacity to dress up Jane Austen by dumbing down the language and pulling at strings to make it appeal to an audience that’s obviously incapable of understand why I a story about a lady seeking a suitable husband is interesting.
I think what hurts the most is that Netflix rated this as a possible 4 stars for me and I only gave it 2 stars and that was only because it was a period piece.
I do all of this ranting because I love Jane Austen’s work and I really can’t stand to see such wonderful literature destroyed in an adaptation. Why bother calling it an adaptation? Why not call it something different and add “based on the novel Mansfield Park” somewhere in the credits? I’ve seen other great books destroyed like this. Directors constantly did this to Michael Crichton novels; Congo, Sphere, The Lost World! It just makes me so angry!
Despite this movie that kept me up half the night because I was so mad about it, I wrote 617 words today (else to Brit for the rest of the period) and I’m bringing all the remaining chapters together in a single file to divide a bit later into “c” files once I’ve re-arranged the story a bit.
All the elements are still there, but I’ve removed some of the slow-moving ones and made the rest of the story flow properly, rather than seem like just a series of events seen through Damen’s eyes.
Tired now…and still a bit angry about that movie. I think what also irks me about this is that I worry that if Damen were ever published that some crazed director might hack it to pieces and call it an adaptation. A part of me wonders if I’d rather just not be published at all than risk that happening…but I try to quiet that part and just focus on my writing.