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Seven Hills

Boston-area exploration, travel notes, crafty things, and other Somervillainy.

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

The Wild Leeches of Mansfield Park

Hmm, what to say about Sunday's "Mansfield Park" on PBS? Like the other week's presentation of "Persuasion," the story felt rather rushed and hectic, perhaps inevitable in a 90-minute production. But it also helped clear up a few plot points for me - this is an Austen book I haven't read, so my familiarity with the story comes entirely from the 1999 film with Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price. That version took significant liberties with the story, once again "sexing it up" (what's with that trend?), with a bi-curious Mary Crawford, among other raunchy bits, so I was interested to see which elements disappeared and which remained in this feature. I'm sure other important elements were also left out of this tele-film, so I guess I will eventually just have to do the honorable thing and read the book itself to get the definitive answers.

So, other than a more faithful storyline, I'm sorry to say that the things that stood out to me most about this "Mansfield Park" were probably not elements the producers of the program had in mind.

Firstly, there were some very lively leeches in a sickroom scene, curling and mugging for the camera in their pretty glass jar. They enjoyed a surprising amount of screentime. Also quite distracting: our mournfully handsome Edmund Bertram looked for all the world like Davy Jones in Beatle boots, preparing to serenade his lady with "Daydream Believer." And in every scene featuring heroine Fanny, played by actress Billie Piper, the screen was in danger of being entirely overtaken by her enormous choppers. Those things were blinding! I would not have been surprised had the rest of the cast been equipped with protective sunglasses.

A bright spot was Jemma Redgrave as a pug-obsessed Lady Bertram, plausibly evolving from chilly to doting in her attitude towards Fanny (not sure if that's true to the book, but I liked it here). I'd last seen Redgrave as the brisk Evie Wilcox in "Howards End," and it was intriguing to see her play this role so differently. It's such a joy to observe the work of actors who, unlike so many one-note Hollywood stars, are actually able to portray a variety of distinct individuals, instead of always being, oh, say, "the Julia Roberts" character, in a given movie.

Up next Sunday is "Miss Austen Regrets," something I will look forward to no matter how good or bad it turns out to be, solely because it stars my beloved Miss Cross. I only hope there's enough time to scurry home from our Sunday Super Bowl party to catch the opening moments. If we miss Gillian Anderson's droning introduction and bordello-red backdrop, that'll be okay.



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