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MANSFIELD PARK

SYNOPSIS:
At the age of 10, Fanny Price is sent by her poor family in Portsmouth to live with rich relatives The Bertrams in Northamptonshire. Growing up at Mansfield Park among the aristocratic Bertrams, Fanny (Frances O'Connor) is treated as a servant by her socially ambitious cousins Maria (Victoria Hamilton) and Julia (Justine Waddell). Her closest ally is youngest son Edmund (Johnny Lee Miller) who falls under the spell of dashing Londoner Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) whose brother Henry makes a similar impression on Julia and Maria, despite the latter's engagement to dim but rich Rushworth (Hugh Bonneville). When Henry finally settles his attentions on Fanny and proposes marriage she rejects his overtures and is sent back to Portsmouth by a displeased Lord Bertram (Harold Pinter). While Henry maintains his efforts to win Fanny's love she realises that her heart truly belongs to Edmund....

Review by Richard Kuipers:
You can imagine Miramax bosses Harvey and Bob Weinstein green-lighting their involvement in this Jane Austen adaptation. "As long as the title reads Mansfield Park and a girl called Fanny Price is the heroine you can do what you like with it," they might have said. Writer-director Patricia Rozema has made significant alterations to the original text and her instincts have worked superbly. It's hard to imagine even the staunchest Austen purist being disappointed by the treatment. The transformation of Fanny from disapproving sideline observer to spunky questioner of the behaviour and mores at Mansfield Park gives her the sparkle and spirit lacking in the novel. Making Fanny an aspiring writer also brings Austen herself into the character and allows us to hear some of the kooky fantasy tales she wrote as a teenager. This is a beautifully crisp and polished gem of a film which doesn't need lush visuals and wisely doesn't go for the overstuffed look too many period pieces succumb to. It's the language which is beautiful and Mansfield Park has it to spare. Listening to dialogue like "You're almost entirely composed of ready opinions not shared," (Lord Bertram to Fanny) and "You have created sensations my heart has never experienced before," (Henry to Fanny) is pure joy. Perfect casting does the rest. Frances O'Connor is a knockout as the spirited Fanny and will become Australia's next international star, Johnny Lee Miller is superb as the soulful and upright Edmund, Alessandro Nivola a dreamboat on legs as Henry and Harold Pinter proves he's more than a brilliant playwright as the Lord of the manor. Add a delicious Embeth Davidtz performance as slinky schemer Mary and the rest of the cast relishing every moment and you have a wonderful piece of cinema which shines long after the lights go up.

Review by Louise Keller:
All the elements you would expect in a Jane Austen adaptation and more can be found in Mansfield Park an outspoken feminist heroine defying social status, arranged marriages, family secrets, resentments, illicit passion and unrequited love stirred lovingly together into a melange of human drama. This was a time when women's independence of spirit was frowned on in a society the roles of women being as constrained as their corsets. Mansfield Park is an intelligent and beautifully shot film that explores the textures and colours of life in the 19th century. The joy is in the nuances and the detailed performances in particular, top Australian actress Frances O'Connor shines as Fanny Price, the discarded daughter of a poor family with more children than sense. O'Connor (she of the dimples, pert nose and upturned mouth) is wonderful in the central role, holding her own in a talented ensemble of thesps including Embeth Davidtz and Jonny Lee Miller. Structured effectively by a narrative through Fanny's letters, the pace is slow and leisurely, as we encounter the fervently hidden little secrets. Having a daily tipple of opium makes the day fly past, while jealousies and resentments build up a head of steam. Mansfield Park is always engaging and compelling, yet there's nothing really new; it lacks the wit of The Winslow Boy, the emotional elegance of Emma or the dark passion of Portrait of a Lady. Nonetheless, Mansfield Park is a delightful interlude that takes us into a world of restraint; a world where drama bubbles underneath an elegant setting of serenity.

Review by Andrew L. Urban:
As Louise says, it's a little too familiar in terms of terrain - the emotional as well as the physical period - to stand out as a film, yet there is nothing that's wrong with it. Oh, except, perhaps a mood that doesn't quite take flight into the wicked comedy ambiance that would have made it more edgy - and more risky, too, commercially, no doubt. Frances O'Connor deserves every accolade that comes her way for her portrait of Fanny Price, a combination of imaginative writer and constrained woman of her day. There are endlessly appealing images that capture the production design in service to the settings, and the male chauvinism of the period rattles loudly against the stirrings of female breasts - while true love's arrow finally finds its mark . . . after much twisting and turning. Mansfield Park is the ideal film to take your maiden aunt, your neglected grandmother and your impertinent male. All for different reasons.

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CRITICAL COUNT
Favourable: 1
Unfavourable: 0
Mixed: 0

FRANCES O'CONNOR INTERVIEW

MANSFIELD PARK (MA)
(US)

CAST: Embeth Davidtz, Jonny Lee Miller, Alessandro Nivola, Frances O'Connor, Harold Pinter, Lindsay Duncan, James Purefoy

PRODUCER: Sarah Curtis

DIRECTOR: Patricia Rozema

SCRIPT: Patricia Rozema (from the novel by Jane Austen)

CINEMATOGRAPHER: Michael Coulter

EDITOR: Martin Walsh

MUSIC: Lesley Barber

PRODUCTION DESIGN: Christopher Hobbs

RUNNING TIME: 110 minutes

AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow

AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: April 20, 2000

VIDEO DISTRIBUTOR: Roadshow Home Entertainment

VIDEO RELEASE: June 2005







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