“Mansfield Park” 1983

mansfield-park_1983In 1983, ITV for BBC television produced the Ken Taylor screenplay of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Shown in six episodes, the production was director David Giles second Austen film. He directed the 1971 version of Sense and Sensibility. The series starred Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund Bertram. (Some of my younger JAFF readers might recognize Ms. Le Touzel as Mrs. Allen in 2007’s “Northanger Abbey.” Farrell was Mr. Musgrove in the 2007 version of “Persuasion.” Ironically, Farrell was Henry Thornton and Le Touzel Marianne Thornton in 2006’s “Amazing Grace.” I love film history!)

The cast included Anna Massey (Mrs. Norris), Angela Pleasence (Lady Bertram), Jackie Smith-Wood (Mary Crawford), Robert Burbage (Henry Crawford), Bernard Hepton (Sir Thomas Bertram), Samantha Bond (Maria Bertram), Christopher Villiers (Tom Bertram), Liz Crowther (Julia Bertram), and an eleven-year-old Jonny Lee Miller as Charles Price. {Later Miller would portray Edmund Bertram in 1999, as well as Mr. Knightley in 2009’s “Emma.”}hqdefault

One of the frequent criticisms of the film is in the casting of Sylvestra Le Touzel as Fanny Price. One of the most complicated characters in Mansfiled Park, Fanny is typically described as passive. She certainly is not of the same nature Austen’s more charming heroines. Fanny’s excessive shyness prevents her from participating socially. Fanny’s self-imposed exclusion results in headaches and emotional turmoil. With little of Fanny’s character to endear her to the viewing audience, the casting of Ms. Le Touzel, who is not classically attractive, is sometimes blamed for the lack of success of the adaptation. 

imagesThe Jane Austen Centre says of the adaptation, ” Mansfield Park may be the hardest of any of Austen’s novels to film. Despite recent efforts, there has not yet been an entirely satisfactory filming of it. Part of this difficulty may arise from the heavy nature of the plot substance (immorality, seduction, adultery)- especially in light of the friendly atmospheres of Pride and Prejudice and Emma. Mansfield Park lacks their spunky, if slightly cheeky heroines. Fanny Price is very moral and kind, but not altogether exciting. In short, very much unlike anything Jane Austen had written before. While the 1999 version of Mansfield Park ‘improves’ upon Fanny and adds to her character, this 1983 adaptation tries to remain faithful to the original. Perhaps they try too hard. Fanny ends up coming across as nervous and flighty. fannyAs one viewer put it: ‘If you can get past Le Touzel’s odd mannerism of making little chopping movements with her open-palmed hand for emphasis, this is a faithful adaptation of the novel.'”

In fact, the overall casting of the series was not well touted by the critics. Sue Parrill in Jane Austen on Film and Television: A Critical Study of the Adaptations (McFarland, 2002) says of the casting: “The choice of Sylvestra Le Touzel for the role of Fanny was fatal to the success of this adaptation. Ironically, the child who played Fanny as a ten year old (Katy Durham-Matthews) was pretty, and it is unlikely that she would have grown up to look like Le Touzel. The other characters are generally well-cast; but with no really outstanding performances. Nicholas Farrell plays Edmund Bertram with a kind of strong-jawed resoluteness.[…] His character us actually more appealing on film than it is in the novel. Robert Burbage plays Henry Crawford appropriately as a Regency dandy. At one point he wears a pink top hat and a pink waistcoats under a pale gray suit. He is affected in manner and does a lot of posing. Anna Massey is convincingly obnoxious as Fanny’s Aunt Norris. Bernard Hepton plays a rather young looking Sir Thomas Bertram. (Hepton may be recalled as playing Emma’s hypochondriac father in the BBC’s 1995 ‘Emma.’) The witty Mary Crawford is well portrayed by Jackie Smith-Wood, who is far easier to look at than Le Touzel. Maria Bertram is played by another actress familiar in Austen adaptations – Samantha Bond – who plays Miss Taylor, Emma’s former governess, in the 1996 A&E ‘Emma.'” [Note: For you “Downtown Abbey” fans, Samantha Bond is Lady Rosamund Painswick, as well as Moneypenny in “Goldeneye” (1995), “Tomorrow Never Dies” (1997) and “The World is Not Enough” (1999).]

Most Janeites do appreciate this adaptation more than some of the others for it follows the book very closely. Serialized, this adaptation runs some 261 minutes. 

Laurel Ann at Austenprose says of this adaptation, “At 312 minutes over six episodes, we are privy to almost all of the novels scenes and veteran readers of Mansfield Park will recognize much of Jane Austen’s choice and witty dialogue. Some viewers might be disappointed in the production quality, as this was originally filmed on video tape and the sound does not supply the quality that we have become accustomed to since it was produced twenty five years ago [sic]. Its strengths lie in the actors performances, costumes and visual beauty as many of the scenes were actually filmed on location, which considering its budget, was a bonus.

“Because of time restraints, I will not attempt to critique the entire movie but focus on one favourite scene which I will call the ‘Sentinel at the garden gate’ from episode 2. Fanny Price and her cousins Maria, Julia and Edmund Bertram travel with Mary and Henry Crawford to the grand Elizabethan era estate of Sotherton Court to visit Maria’s fiancé Mr. Rushworth. As the couples walk through the wilderness parkland adjacent to the estate, director David Giles reveals Austen’s comedic genius in a scene that could have inspired any vintage vaudeville burlesque or modern television sitcom. When Fanny becomes fatigued, she is deposited on a park bench in the shade adjacent to a locked iron gate that has bared progress through the park. As the different groups and individuals arrive in search of each other, Fanny acts as the ‘sentinel of the garden gate’, relaying messages and explaining to everyone who has come and gone, and why. Austen’s brilliant comedic timing is in full play, and the director David Giles knows how to emphasize the right moments to build tension to the point of hilarity.”

From the Jane Austen Centre, we also learn: “Filmed on location in many of the great houses of England, this adaptation also uses a few studio shots which cut down on the lush atmosphere being presented. While one must remember this was filmed for television on a much smaller budget than we have grown accustomed to seeing, the action tends to be slower and more elaborate than you may be used to. Perhaps the words of one disillusioned viewer put it best: ‘This is a stylish, well-costumed, and soulless version of a great book.’ Despite a good script (which delves deeper into the life of the Crawfords than its modern counterpart, and gives William Price his rightful place in Fanny’s life) and talent, this film flows along at a languid pace, even becoming a bit dull at times. Considering the new Miramax version, though, one may contend that this is a blessing. Better to err on the side of conservativism than on that of sensationalism.

nick“Worth special mention, and definitely the cost of the rental, are the hairstyles sported by the men in the film. One author of Jane Austen at the Movies stated that she was always distracted when Edmund came on screen. ‘By what?’, You ask? His ‘awful’ hairstyle. I did not find it that unusual…especially in light of one which I think deserves the most attention. Watch for Robin Langford’s Mr. Yates. Only seeing is believing, in this case. A description would not be able to do it justice.”

About Regina Jeffers

Regina Jeffers is the award-winning author of Austenesque, Regency and historical romantic suspense.
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6 Responses to “Mansfield Park” 1983

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  5. Jeanne Garrett says:

    Even though this version is the oldest…it is the most true to the book and yes there were problems but not like the newer versions. Fanny is a hard character to cast. In the novel she is not considered a beauty and until her cousins are out of the house, hardly noticed unless Mrs. Norris was scolding her or Lady Bertram needed something. The actress would need to be plain but should improve as the story progresses and she grows up.

    Actress Anne Massey is the best version of Mrs. Norris in any of the movies adaptations. She reigns supreme with the correct mixture of exasperated airs and self-deprecating piety. My goodness…she was a piece of work and Fanny was her scapegoat in any situation. She could divert attention or win any argument simply with excess of words.

    I liked the actress who was cast as Mrs. Price, Fanny’s mother. I wish Lady Bertram was more like her. I never could figure out what was up with Lady Bertram…indolent was one thing…but really.
    I still think Le Touzel did the best with the part of Fanny. Yes she had problems with her hands and that crying jag with Sir Thomas was a little bizarre. However, all things considered, she was truest to character. Hopefully someone will tackle this novel again and get it right.

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