Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Worst Adaptation EVAH

I recently saw the latest BBC adaptation of Jane Austen's MANSFIELD PARK. This is the same version that's going to be shown on PBS soon.

I've seen some disappointing adaptations in my day, but this set a whole new standard for "what the heck?" Not every Austen heroine is Elizabeth Bennet or her clone, but you'd never know it by this. Nor was that the only problem I had with this show.

I knew I was going to be cringing the moment they showed Fanny Price running around playing tag. It's made very clear in Jane Austen's novel that Fanny is not exactly robust. Indeed, she's rather frail and sickly (so much so, I have a hard time believing she's not going to die in childbirth). Fanny is also quiet and timid.

Now, I will grant that this makes Fanny one of the more difficult of Austen's heroines for the modern audience to relate to, precisely because she is so quiet and timid -- unless you show that she does have emotions being kept under tight control, as well as the inner strength it takes for her to (a) not reveal her feelings because she thinks she has no cause to believe that Edmund will ever love her and (b) continue to refuse Henry Crawford, despite the incredible pressure being put to her to accept him. In other words, Fanny may be physically weak and have a self-esteem issue, but she has internal fortitude that prevents her from completely succumbing to the will of others.

Instead of making a difficult character completely different, as this adaptation does, Emma Thompson gave a good demonstration of how it could be done in Sense and Sensibility. To be sure, she added the scene where Elinor finally tells Marianne of her heartbreak and reveals the extent of her pain -- but it was one scene. Otherwise, her Elinor is very much Jane Austen's Elinor.

Worse, it wasn't just Fanny who was completely different in this adaptation -- Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram were drastically altered, too. In Austen's book, Sir Thomas may mean well, but she makes it very clear that his demeanor is often cold and stern, until the family troubles change his perspective. As for Lady Bertram, she's completely self-involved and self-centered. She cares more about her pug than she does about Fanny. Instead, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram are presented as kind, generous guardians.

In Austen's book, Rushworth is a real dope, the point being that it's completely obvious that Maria is only marrying him for his money, and that's going to lead to trouble, as it does. In this adaptation, it's more as if he just isn't quite as dashing as Henry Crawford, but otherwise, nothing at all to make one think he'd be a bad choice for a husband.

There are other things that bothered me, too, but these were the main ones.

I suppose if you just want a nice Regency romance, this will do. But if you're looking for a good adaption of the book Jane Austen wrote, this ain't it. Not by a mile in a barouche-landau.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

WOW! Well, will watch it because I do all of the Austen adaptions, but my expectations have been duly lowered -- changing the basic character of the heroine is sure to set my teeth on edge in a heartbeat.

As Mansfield Park is a favourite Austen book rarely done well, now I won't be disappointed in another poor turnout.

Still watching it, though.