Thursday, March 17, 2011

Jane Austen's Mansfield Park (1983)

Netflix sez...
1983 NR 2 discs
Brought up by her pessimistic uncle (Bernard Hepton), homely Fanny (Sylvestra Le Touzel) continuously endures rejection and snubbing from every person she comes in contact with at her uncle's estate. The only person who doesn't treat her terribly is her cousin Edmund (Nicholas Farrell). As Fanny grows into a lovely young lady, she finds herself torn between Edmund and a wealthy neighbor named Henry Crawford (Robert Burbage).

The 73rd Virgin sez...
Fuzzy videotape? Check. Echoey, poorly damped sound and dialog? Check. Fussy light classical music to set the scenes? Check. Welcome to BBC in the early 80s! If you can handle those distractions and the stately pace, this is an excellent version.

I remember the book being awfully slow, but some parts are exceptionally rich and closely observed, and much of that makes it to the screen. Unlike other versions, this one takes the trouble to show us a good deal of Fanny's early years and the intricate family politics at work in the background.

The child actors are acceptable for half an hour. As for the adults, Sylvestra Le Touzel is a very unusual actress-heroine with an alarmingly natural nose compared to the modern baseline of perfection, but she is perfectly acceptable as the halting and observant Fanny. Her hunched, worried demeanor and strange way of acting with her hands grew on me. Lady Bertram's regency space-cadet routine is a little tiring. Edmond Bertram is unusually well-cast and acted given the BBCs track record of balding, wrinkled young heroes in the 80s. Miss Crawford is physically perfect and playful, if a bit old, and the wig is unfortunate, but Bernard Hepton's performance as Sir Thomas is shaded and precise.

The first 3 episodes are spotty, and, like the book, rather slow, but the last 3 are borderline brilliant, with perfect sets in Portsmouth, excellent detail and adherance to the story, and time enough to allow the story to play out. The idea of using Fanny's letters, which didn't much appear in the book, as Austen's voice-over to bring everything in on time and under budget is very effective. Finally, I really admire BBC's willingness to hang a microphone, shoulder mount a camera and just let fly with a scene in a carriage, while the soundtrack rattles and bangs along and the actors bounce all over the place. It certainly feels realistic, if artless. Outstanding. 5 out of 5 stars.

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