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Mansfield Park Reviews

Austen purists may gag, but director Patricia Rozema has managed to crack Mansfield Park, transforming Jane Austen's problematic novel into an engaging bit of entertainment. Ten-year-old Fanny Price (Hannah Taylor Gordon) is taken from her family's squalid Portsmouth home and brought to live at Mansfield Park, the sprawling country estate of her wealthy uncle and aunt, Lord and Lady Bertram (Harold Pinter, Lindsay Duncan). Fanny is raised as the proverbial poor step-child, overshadowed by her privileged cousins: eldest Tom (James Purefoy), who's heir to his father's property, including a sugar plantation in Antigua; sensitive younger brother Edmond (Jonny Lee Miller), who plans to become a cleric; and the shallow and spoiled Misses Bertram, Maria (Victoria Hamilton) and Julia (Justine Waddell). Edmond and the now-grown Fanny (Frances O'Connor) are an ideal match, but matters are complicated with the arrival of the Crawfords, the half-brother and -sister of the parson's wife. Edmond is captivated by the sharp and sophisticated Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz); her brother Henry (Alessandro Nivola), meanwhile, is bent on seducing the young ladies of Mansfield Park, Fanny included. Rozema has solved the "problem" of Austen's novel by consulting the author's own letters and journals, transforming the priggish Fanny into, well, Jane Austen. Rozema squeezes in a little raunchy sex and gives her interpretation critical cachet by reading the novel in terms of English imperialism. Genteel life at Mansfield Park is explicitly grounded in the suffering of Antiguan slaves; marriage becomes synonymous with slavery; and the business of Sir Thomas Bertram includes torture and rape. It's heavy-handed and not entirely original (Rozema owes a great, unacknowledged debt to critic Edward Said), but it's interesting nonetheless. Whatever havoc it happens to wreak in terms of characterization (where, exactly, does a rapist fit into a happy ending?) is smoothed over by the sterling cast.