The Austen Photo-Recap Chronicles; Mansfield Park

Ah, Mansfield Park, the book that got modern audiences saying, “okay, but, they’re distant cousins, right?” CONFESSION; though I know it was the custom of the time, and though I respect Austen’s words with everything inside of me, I… (I can’t believe I’m about to admit this to Austen lovers such as yourselves), I have a Mansfield Park head-cannon. I allow myself to believe, though it’s not in the book, that Tom and Edmund are children from a previous marriage, and the ‘new’ Mrs. Bertram is their step-mother. 

I KNOW, okay, I know it’s blasphemy, but it’s the only way I can make my modern sensibilities align with the main romance of the story. I’M SORRY, but, as they say, I am also NOT SORRY. 

This is the last Austen that I read, and I did so quite recently, so her words and intentions were fresh in my mind when I watched the recent adaptations. I can’t imagine this is a unique take, but it must be said: Fanny Price is nowhere to be found. Fanny, the real Fanny, just isn’t Hollywood’s ideal heroine. And really, can we blame them? While I prefer movies to be true to the books they’re adapting, is it even possible to engage modern audiences with the real Fanny Price? On the page, yes, because we’re privy to her thoughts and feelings, but on the screen… I’m not sure even the biggest Austen fans among us could sit through two hours of Fanny sitting primly with her hands folded, barely saying anything. 

So the film industry, as they so often do, had to spice things up, and they didn’t stop at Fanny. Slave trade drama, abolitionist cousins, creepy borderline-abusive uncles, sexy times, and a steamier main romance than was even hinted at in the book. These things took away from the nuance of the novel, but it added to the entertainment of the movie, and I have to say… I’m not mad about it. 

I chose to recap the 1999 adaptation for two reasons; the first being that it’s simply a better movie. The 2007 version has its merits, of course; it features Billie Piper (heart), Haley Atwell (double heart), and James D’Arcy (Jarvis!), and the events are a smidge more faithful to the book, but (for me, at least), the 1999 version is more compelling, more entertaining, and has more chemistry between the actors. 

The second reason I choose this movie is because I’m unable to recap the BBC version of Emma (it’s 4 hours long), and I refuse to be denied Jonny Lee Miller TWICE. 

The movie opened on young Fanny making up a story for her sister Susan, which was basically the movie’s way of saying, “you think you know Fanny? Hahaha, you don’t know ANYTHING.” Anyway, it was time for Fanny to be shipped off to her wealthy relations because her own parents couldn’t afford to raise her anymore. 

Fanny asked when she would be back, and her mom was all, “huh? Oh you’re still here?” which was basically all we needed to know about THAT situation. So off she went on a carriage ride to her new home, passing a slave ship on the way, which was another hint the movie gave us that we were in for some wacky liberties. 

After a drunken Tom left her standing by the front door for two hours, the adults brought her inside and stage-whispered about her inferiority. Sir Tom was all, “did she go through decontamination yet?” and Aunt Mean-Face was like, “No, I’ll get the acid,” and Sir Thomas was all, “We should treat her differently enough that she knows she’s beneath us, but like, let’s not be dicks about it.”

After showing her to her new room, (which was basically storage) Aunt Norris (the mean one) was all, “you shall never escape, this is your life now, hahahhahahaha, enjoy.” This naturally made her pretty upset, until a young boy came in to cheer her up. 

Ahem. 

Then we saw Fanny dictating letters to her sister, which was a great way to show us even more of her totally made-up creative, witty, fun personality. A fun personality that has obviously won Edmund’s heart, as evidenced from the very first scene in their adulthood. 

Just call Mansfield Park a 90s teen rom-com because these besties are in LOVE (yet another creative liberty that I was NOT mad about).

Then we were introduced to the rest of the Mansfield adults; the Bertram sisters Julia and Maria (who is engaged), and the Crawfords, Henry and Mary; a brother-and-sister duo who are staying in the cottage at Mansfield with their older half-sister. 

Everyone was immediately 100% thirsty for both of them, and it became clear that Fanny will now have some competition for the affections of her STEP-cousin. 

The moral character of these invading siblings became clear on their walk home where they casually discussed which sister Henry wanted to defile, and he was like, “both, but the engaged one even more because it’ll be naughty.” And as they were flippantly discussing his family’s possible ruination, Edmund was watching them from the window swooning over how great they are, while Fanny watched him with a look that said, “thanks, I hate it.”

The eldest brother Tom returned to Mansfield with his friend Yates, an *whispers, ashamed* actor. After some brainstorming about how to pass the time, it was proposed that they would stage a rather racy play; an idea Edmund was decidedly against, because Regency. 

Fanny was in her room (because Aunt Norris was truly horrible to her in front of everyone), when both Mary and Edmund came for a visit. Mary asked to run lines and then proceeded to seduce them both. You guys… do I… do I maybe ship Fanny and Mary? Mary could teach Fanny some things, is all I’m saying. 

Anyway, the result of this was Edmund volunteering to be her scene partner, even though he was 100% morally against it. 

It was the day of the play, and everyone was in their costumes getting their extreme flirt on, when who should return home but Sir Thomas! He was understandably displeased about the impropriety of the play (because Regency), but immediately let it go and proceeded to drool all over Fanny.

Sir Thomas was very impressed with how Fanny had grown into a beautiful young woma- *gag*, excuse me, um, a nubile young lad- *blerg*. At dinner he showed himself to be just the absolute worst by defending slavery, then essentially hitting on his niece, talking about her ‘figure’ *barf* while our darling Edmund tried to steer the conversation to the merits of her mind. 

Since she was now a tasty young treat *puke*, Sir Thomas decided that she should have a coming out ball; an idea that Fanny wasn’t super pumped about.

Fanny couldn’t help but feel like a prized pig being led to market, and Edmund was all, “k, but you ARE pretty, and you should probably get used to being hollered at,” but she had already rode off in a huff. 

Sir Thomas played the pronoun game and was like, “she’ll make a fine wife” or whatever, and Edmund got excited, thinking he was referring to his one true love bestie, but nope, he was talking about Mary. 

I like this change from the book, you guys, I really do. Like I said before, it takes away some nuance, but it adds some heart palpitations and pants-tinglies, so I’m for it. In the book, it takes Edmund and Fanny a long time to end up together because of his blind dumb-dumbness. Like, let’s be honest, Edmund in the book is 100% dumb-dumb. But in the movie, it’s clear the only reason they’re apart is because they both believe it wouldn’t be allowed. 

Crawford tried to hit on Fanny in the library, but she of course wasn’t having it. It was enough, however, to send Maria to her father, insisting on her marriage to a total weiner (played hilariously by the under-different-circumstances very charming Hugh Bonneville). Maria didn’t even try to hide how much she haaaaaaaated her husband and his stupid hair at her own wedding. 

Welp, that storyline is done now, we probably won’t see her again *wink*. 

In another dimension, THIS is the movie, right here. But it’s not, so they girl-talked about Edmund, what his favourite ice cream is, can he sing along to every Boyz 2 Men song, does he have a crush on anyone, is he soon to be a man of God, that sort of stuff. 

Edmund, of course, chose that exact time to come a’ calling, so he overheard Mary’s displeasure at his chosen profession. He was all, “I am who I am, kid,” and she was like, “change, though,” and he was like, “… no?” and she was all, “hahaha, seriously though, change.” It was not a super productive conversation.

Then at the ball (there’s always a ball) Mary was like, “Am I the heroine or what?” and straight up called Edmund out for being totally bananas about Fanny. He gave her some bullshit answer about there being many kinds of love, and she was like, “I’m convinced.”    

This dance was everything it needed to be. Both men were very obviously wildly in love with Fanny, and Mary was just like, “cool, I’m here too!” 

Crawford standing outside staring at Fanny’s window was likely romantic in his mind, but was 100% nightmare-fodder straight out of a horror movie. Anyway, he started a full-court press on Fanny, asking to rent a cottage at Mansfield, but the only person he managed to woo was Sir Thomas. 

He chased Fanny up some stairs to declare his undying love for her and she basically laughed in his face. Girl knows a player when she sees one! Anyway, he formally asked Sir Thomas for her hand, and he was all, “go get ‘em, girl!” and Fanny was like, “thanks but no thanks?” and Sir Thomas was like, “not sure you heard me, I said, go get ‘em,” and she was like, “going to politely decline?” and he was like, “get your ass downstairs and marry a hunk,” and she was like, “I’m allergic to hunks,” and he was like, “bitch, I swear to GOD.” 

Basically Sir Thomas tried to force her to marry Crawford, which again, was a disembarkment from the book for the sake of drama. She was resolute in her refusal, and had to endure his pressure while watching Edmund become closer to the Crawfords. During the ol’ family discussion about it, Fanny was like, “Edmund, YOUR thoughts?” and he was all, “Well, we can never be TRULY happy so we might as well just settle, and as far as consolation prizes go, we could do worse,” and she was like, “how uplifting.” 

Luckily, our girl held fast and was therefore sent to her OG family in Portsmouth as punishment. 

Their tearful goodbye will live in my soul forever. This was absolutely something the film invented for the sake of our swooning hearts, and I am NOT MAD. In the book, her trip was not a punishment, and she was expected to return in a couple of months, so Edmund was like, “cool bud, see ya when I see ya.” NOT IN THE MOVIE THOUGH!

Look, Fanny’s mother was not a bad person, nor was she a particularly bad mother. She was simply dealing with each new reality the best way she could. It was for Fanny’s (and the rest of the family’s) own good that Fanny was sent away. She couldn’t sit around moping about the daughter she missed, she had to focus on the other ones, which meant shutting Fanny out of her mind. This, however, didn’t make it sting Fanny any less, especially after seeing how downright creepy her father turned out to be. Luckily Fanny had her younger sister Susan to braid hair with, do each other’s nails, eat popcorn, and watch MTV while joke-fighting about which boys were cuter. 

This boy was A LOT, and poor Fanny just couldn’t stand her ground when he showed up at her family home and persisted with his suit; sending her fireworks, being civil to her poor family, calling her out on being totally gaga over Edmund but saying he’s cool with it, and bringing her mint chocolate ice cream (I assume). She was especially inclined to accept his offer after her mom was like, “I married for love,” then motioned around her life like, “ammiright?” AND THEN she got a letter from Edmund that said Mary was “the only woman he could think of as a wife.” UGH. 

Fanny immediately was like, “hahaha, j/k, I super duper don’t ever want to marry you ever, can you leave please this is getting awkward.” When she first said yes to him and they kissed (!!) I was definitely one of those Austen snobs who was like, “WHAT, Fanny would NEVER, why, I’m so angry I- oh… oh okay, I see, yeah that’s fine.” Like, they changed it for dramatic effect, but then rectified the story tout de suite, so I’m okay with it. 

Meanwhile, Tom was suffering from some drunken self-inflicted sickness, and the family needed their emotional-support-maid to come and make everyone feel better. So, Edmund showed up and was all, “yo girl, you ready to get this climax started?” And she giggled and was like, “heh, you said climax.”

The carriage ride back to Mansfield Park was gloriously paaaaainnnnfulllll. They spoke about how much they missed each other, and about their probable marriages to other people, and the context of everything they said translated to; “I LOVE YOU SO MUCH THIS IS ACTUAL LITERAL HELL I WANT TO KISS EVERY PART OF YOU.”

Then he fell asleep on her boobs. 

While caring for a sickly Tom, she got a peek at his sketchbook which was filled with horrific drawings of the atrocities of the Slave Trade; also starring Sir Thomas. This is where the movie is much kinder to Tom than the book. He wasn’t lazy, he was appalled by his father’s business and wanted no part of it. He was an abolitionist. He may have even been suffering from PTSD from witnessing such evil things. This eventually led to a heartfelt speech by Sir Thomas at his son’s bedside, where he promised to change his ways. Good on you, Tom! 

Meanwhile, in their huuuuuuuuuuuuuge concern for Tom, the Crawford siblings came to visit to see if they could be of any assistance / generally be the worst. Crawford was still very butt-hurt about Fanny’s rejection, and decided to process those feelings productively by staring intensely at her for long, uninterrupted periods, and then sexing up her married cousin. 

Fanny walked in on them, then Edmund came out to have a look-see at what was making her so disconcerted. Maria was all, “omg KNOCK MUCH?” and Edmund was like, “adultery much?” and she was like, “solid burn STRAIGHT WHITE MAN, you have no idea what it’s like to be forced into a-” and Edmund was like, “didn’t Dad give you an out?” And she was like, “IT DOESN’T MATTER JUST GET OUT OF MY ROOM YOU BRAT!” and Henry Crawford was like, “yo dude, we cool?” and Edmund punched him in the nuts. 

All the feelings that were unleashed with this revelation culminated in an almost-kiss that set ALL of our loins aflame, don’t deny it. But Edmund caught himself and fled, leaving Fanny sitting there like, “what a day!” and leaving Tom all, “did ya’ll just have an almost-kiss at my possible deathbed?”

Of course the perfect follow-up morning to a night like that was Maria’s boob of a husband showing up WITH A NEWSPAPER to find that his wife had run off with a handsome scoundrel. Now the family was shamed, and Fanny was rightfully feeling pretty smug about the whole thing (she CALLED IT, did she not?). 

Mary didn’t do herself any favours by taking over the family meeting like she was the team leader at a company retreat. She basically told Sir Thomas to hush, implied it would be better for everyone if Tom died and left his fortune to Edmund, then came up with a plan that would excuse the adultery of Mary and Henry, heavily implying the sin was in being caught, not the act itself. THEN she had the AUDACITY to blame Fanny for not marrying Henry, saying he maybe probably would have been content to flirt with Maria for the rest of their lives, probably, maybe. 

Edmund told her off for being the absolute worst (and basically a figment of his imagination), then gloriously told her to hit the road. 

Then it was time for the happily-ever-after wrap-up; the Crawford siblings both married people who cheated on them… or, they all cheated on each other? Either way, it befitted them. Tom got better, and both he and Sir Tom became better people. Susan came to live at Mansfield Park, Julia (the essentially forgotten sister) got a letter from Yates (whom she married in the book), and of course… 

Edmund FINALLY shoots his shot with Fanny, and they got married. OH, and he submits her writing for publication, which is a cute little nod to Austen herself. 

So, yes, this movie is very different from the book, but the ideas are there; the moral lessons, and the social commentary. It tells a compelling story, entertains, and gives our hearts some welcome palpitations. And if this movie inspires possible new Austen readers to turn to the books for more entertainment, then that’s all the better. 

SOME STUFF

  • “Run mad as often as you choose, but do not faint,” is fun in this context, but it’s not a Jane Austen quote from this story. It is in fact from Love and Friendship, and wasn’t exactly a positive sentiment. 
  • This was the next book after Pride and Prejudice, and it seemed a bit like a writer’s exercise; a challenge to create a heroine as different from Elizabeth Bennet as possible. I love this so much. Our girl Jane wasn’t a one-trick pony. She wrote many different kinds of stories, with different lessons, different tones, and of course, different characters. Jane Austen taught generations of her fans that there isn’t one type of heroine – that all kinds of qualities can make a leading lady. 
  • Sir Thomas being creepy is something I didn’t get from the book – overbearing and a bit misogynistic, yes, but not an outright gross, angry immoral dude. And I think that’s what makes him so interesting in the book – he’s doing something monstrous (profitting from slavery) but he is not a monster. The nuance of his character was sacrificed for the drama of the movie, but again, I’m not particularly angry about it, considering his character’s growth by the end. 
  • The delivery of Lady Bertram’s line about giving Fanny a pug was CHILLING. Give that woman some more opioids and put her the heck to bed!  
  • Even though I know it went against  Jane Austen’s intentions, I can’t help but love Sassy Fanny. 

“Fanny, I’ve been meaning to ask, how long are you staying?”

“I’m not sure, Aunt Norris, how long are you staying?”
AAWWWWWWWWWWWWW SHE WENT THERE

  • Fanny and Mary… I can’t be alone on this. What shall their shipper name be? Fary? Manny? Priceford? Crice?
  • Is Mansfield Park anyone’s favourite Austen? I’d love to know your reasons! Hit up the comments! 
  • If you took one of those “Which Austen Character Are You” quizzes and got Fanny Price, would you flip a table, or would you be like, “sure, cool.” 
  • How is everyone doing with all the crazy shit going on in the world today? You all okay? What are you doing to cope (if anything)? Things are bananas right now, and we’re all just walking (or sitting) flesh bags of anxiety, but there are still ways to reach out; social media, phone calls (if you’re old like me), video-calls, smoke signals… silly photo-recaps, hoping to give someone a chuckle. 🙂 I suppose what I’m trying to say is that we’re all in this together, and there are ways to find a little bit comfort, if needed. 

OKAY THAT’S IT FROM ME, LOVE YOU GUYS! 

4 thoughts on “The Austen Photo-Recap Chronicles; Mansfield Park

  1. Hey Toni! Love this recap of Mansfield Park. I too am a fan of this adaptation with Jonny Lee Miller (yum!) But now I want to go back and read the novel. This is what I am doing, reading Jane Austen, watching Jane Austen, reading/writing JA fanfic, reading/writing commentary on Sanditon and other JA novels/movies. It’s my escape! Thank you for your part in this! I might send you my video (if I ever make it) of my Sanditon school of Higher Learning, it’s a bit cheeky!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Commented on the reddit, but while MP is not my favorite Austen, it is tied for second (with every novel that isn’t Emma, because Emma is the queen of my heart and I identify with her hard). I think Fanny gets a bad rap from too many people, and would love to see someone actually give her a sincere try, instead of just giving up before they even try.

    Also, I love Jonny Lee Miller in this version, but did he have to wear such…red lipstick?

    Liked by 1 person

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