NOTE: This review was written under a previous rating system. Some of the older reviews may express opinions and judgment calls that are not in line with our current standards.2007
Iain B. MacDonald
Imagine a world in which all young women dress immodestly, in which three-quarters of them are trying to seduce somebody, and one-quarter are running through their uncle’s mansion with uncombed hair. A world where lewd remarks and sexual advances can be made in public without fear of scandal. A world of deception that is only able to deceive the characters in it because somebody wrote it that way, and that couldn’t have deceived anybody else if it tried… and it didn’t. Moreover, it’s a small world, where all events evidently take place on the same piece of real estate. The undeveloped kind of world, where there seem to be traces of some primitive understanding of cranes and dollies, but apparently no concept as yet of the tripod.
It is a world, in short, that looks a great deal like a cheap, made-for-television film like Mansfield Park. The peculiar statistics about the behavior of the young women in that world are easier to understand when you know that it’s a world that actually only has four young women in it (the odd one out, the heroine), presumably because the budget wouldn’t allow for more characters. As to the problem of their wardrobe, they’ve so few dresses each (for want of a satisfactory costume budget) that your odds of seeing them in the most revealing dress they own are disproportionately high. The lack of variation in the scenery was doubtless owing to budget limits, as well.
But there are other things in the 2007 film adaptation of Mansfield Park than poor acting, poor scripting or wretched cinematography, that also seem strangely typical of movies made for television: the complete disregard for the style of the original book, of course, and the vulgarity and gratuitous sensuality. I meant what I said about all the young women dressing immodestly, and I meant what I said about their behavior. There is nothing nineteenth-century, or even basically ladylike, about the heroine’s manners; there is nothing admirable enough in her conduct to redeem anybody else’s. Of course, it is to be understood that almost everyone else in the movie is a villain obsessed with crass sensuality, so their behavior isn’t meant to be the model of honor. It is within the job description of a villain like Miss Crawford to pull her dress back to expose her legs to new acquaintances, or like Mr. Rushworth to blithely chant “though your garter met my eye, my thoughts were far above it!” or like Miss Crawford’s brother to passionately kiss Mr. Rushworth’s fiancée. However, be they as consistent with the characters as they might, those scenes (and others like them) did less to prove the vulgarity of the characters than that of the filmmakers. I believe that even those who care nothing about purity could not deny that the sensual elements of Mansfield Park were too awkward and too unnecessarily drawn out to be anything but gratuitous attention-getters for television audiences. Those who do care about purity will almost certainly find Mansfield Park offensive. They may, indeed, find it offensive enough to do as I did, and stop watching after only forty minutes. Or, they may do better than I, and not watch any of it.
There is so much bad in this film, and so little in either virtue or art to compensate for it, I must suggest that women ignore the Mansfield Park of 2007, and that men avoid it.