Allo! Welcome back!
From time to time, I will post a quick review of movies and books I either a) miraculously missed, or b) just discovered, and c) definitely think you should not miss. Or, sometimes, d) think you need to miss as hard as possible, because it is e) embarassingly mediocre or f) soul-scarringly, chew-your-own-nuts-off-to-escape awful.
Mediaeval Bestiary Allegedly beavers would bite off their own nuts to evade hunters. That explains a lot about Canadians. And yes, I've used this graphic before, but I love it, so shut up.
Tonight's feature is Mansfield Park (1999), featuring Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price.
Summary: Poor girl Fanny Price is temporarily sent off to her aunt and uncle's, to decrease her mother's burden of multiple children, get some class, and hopefully, get married. She arrives at the Bertrams’ gates to find that the eldest son Tom is a jerk, that his sisters Julia and Maria are bitchy snobs, and that the remaining brother Edmund is a Perfectly Nice Guy. Hilarity ensues.
Flash forward a dozen years, and it is marriage time; one girl, Maria, already has a very stupid fiancé, but Julia and Fanny still need husbands, and Edmund and Tom are equally single. Two siblings, Mary and Henry Crawford, come to visit and more hilarity ensues, including a Very Improper Play that Tom, the eldest Bertram, masterminds. Henry tries to gain the hearts of both Maria and Julia, big brother Tom is a drunken sot, and Mary Crawford (the delightful Embeth Davidz) is wicked, bisexual, and delicious. She is heartless and fun, and arguably, she’s the real heroine of the piece. She and O’Connor have titillating chemistry (no pun intended) as they fight over Edmund’s heart.
It gets complex when Henry decides he genuinely loves Fanny. However, since Fanny has FEMINISM, as shown by her retellings of British history (which, to be fair, are actually derived from Austen’s own writing), she doesn’t put up with his disgusting flirting. However, Henry is rich, and when Fanny’s uncle and aunt find out that she doesn’t want to marry the skeezebag, they throw a tantrum. Of course, because women are only good for marriage, and are silly to think otherwise, she is 'punished'. That is, her (rather rich) aunt and uncle send her to her mother, figuring that spending time with her impoverished family of origin is the worst punishment possible.
It bears mentioning that her uncle has a plantation in Antigua. The movie mucks with the timeline of events a bit, and has Tom and his father...return to Antigua while Fanny is with her impoverished family? I was confused by that bit. Henry Crawford comes to hit on Fanny again, and he is rejected, hardcore. Anyway, this drama is interrupted by Edmund’s convenient dire news. Whether it's from the return trip or hangover from the first trip, Tom goes mad and enters a delirious fever. Fanny discovers his drawings of her uncle and others abusing the slaves on the plantation, and her uncle tries to cover it up. Everything is about as awful as possible, and it gets worse when Fanny catches Maria Bertram knocking bones with Henry. Maria and Henry are thrown into disgrace, and Mary Crawford’s suggestions on how to handle Tom’s fever and Maria’s disgrace cause Edmund to break off their engagement in disgust. Mary and Henry go off to find more liberal partners and do more depraved things, Maria and awful auntie Mrs. Norris live together and hate each other, and everyone else—especially Fanny and Edmund—lives happily ever after.
Source. I just can't be mad at that face. She's too adorable.
Pros: instead of being a rote retelling of the novels plot (which I adore) this is a …different version. Fanny is a feminist, not a mouse; her uncle is oppressive; the social dirt and slavery themes are more viciously underlined; and Fanny's brother is entirely cut from the plot. I was sad to see Lady Bertram’s laziness and Mrs. Norris’ awful shrewishness cut to cast Fanny’s uncle in a darker light. Still, he makes for an interesting antagonist, and it’s nice to see a period piece meeting the slavery issue head-on, rather than dodging around it. The score and the visual set are also very nice and atmospheric, very dark and sinister. Fanny’s monologue letters are a neat addition, and as I’ve implied, Frances O’Connor is delightful. I wanted to just carry her around in my pocket. Edmund, as played by Johnny Lee Miller, is portrayed with appeal and subtlety, but his attraction to strumpetalicious Mary Crawford doesn’t really fit. Still, the mindphuquerie in the plot twists really appealed to me.
Cons: This ain’t your granny’s Austen. I am undecided about the changes. I like faithfulness to material, but I am also willing to watch a movie with gutsy changes. For this reason, the fanfictionish Lost in Austen managed to capture my heart with its interesting retelling of Pride and Prejudice. I adore Frances O'Connor in this, but the point of the story is that soft, quiet, domitable Fanny shows herself to be stronger than social forces, and rebels against the marriage with Henry Crawford. Casting Fanny as a spitfire, non-conventionalist writer just changes the material beyond recognition. I found myself sitting there and thinking, “Sorry! Your Elizabeth is in another castle”. Hardcore traditionalists hated it, and I can see why. The biggest problem is the lack of subtlety and insufficient re-working to accommodate for it.
Final Verdict: 9 out of 10 for being delightful and quite gutsy; 2 out of 10 for poor implementation of the changes--a total retelling would have been better. So...I suppose that averages out to 6 out of 10. Salon.com reviewers sneered at it, as have quite a few others, but…something about it works. I dock a mark for the poorly implemented feminism, which came out of nowhere, and sloppy implementation of changes. And yet...there is so much force and passion in this retelling that I can't help forgiving the charges I just made. I do not know how much sense the plot will make for non-Austen fans. (If you are an Austen fan, expect to shout, “Oh, no, she D’IN’T!” at the screen a lot.) Still, I won't bother lying: this looks as though it will be a new guilty pleasure.
As always, I hope you enjoyed today's batch o' fresh thoughts. There will be more feminism, more funny, more writing updates, some missed-it reviews. Keep an eye on new releases by following on Twitter and on Tumblr. This is your SciFiMagpie, over and out!