Combustible Celluloid
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With: Frances O'Connor, Jonny Lee Miller, Embeth Davidtz, Alessandro Nivola, Harold Pinter, Lindsay Duncan, Sheila Gish, James Purefoy, Victoria Hamilton, Justine Waddell, Hugh Bonneville, Hannah Gordon Taylor, Sophia Myles
Written by: Patricia Rozema, based on the novel by Jane Austen
Directed by: Patricia Rozema
MPAA Rating: PG-13 for brief violent images, sexual content and drug use
Running Time: 112
Date: 08/27/1999

Mansfield Park (1999)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Centered 'Park'

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

I usually hate period costume movies. In no other genre is the pure life essence so sucked out of the movies. But, if you're going to do it, do it right. Do Jane Austen, whose natural wit and passion always seem to come through, even in the driest and most stilted movie productions. The big Austen craze happened four years ago. During that time, Clueless and Sense and Sensibility (both 1995) came out on top as the most playful adaptations, and the ones in which their respective writers, Amy Heckerling and Emma Thompson, were willing to put themselves into the material, instead of just slavishly trying to make a Cliff's Notes movie of the book. The lesser of the Austen films were Persuasion (1995) and Emma (1996). The new Mansfield Park falls somewhere inbetween.

Adapted and directed by Patricia Rozema (I've Heard the Mermaids Singing), Mansfield Park works because it not only comes from the novel Mansfield Park but also from Austen's letters and journals. So the character of Fanny Price (played wonderfully here by the lively Frances O'Connor) becomes a passionate writer, full of romance and dreams and is more three-dimensional than the heroines of many of these dramas.

Fanny is a lower-class girl who is sent for by her rich Aunt (Lindsay Duncan) and Uncle (the playwright Harold Pinter) to live with them as a servant. She falls in love with her first cousin (Jonny Lee Miller) and becomes the object of affection for Henry (Alessandro Nivola). It's a simple love triangle, but Rozema does her level best to make the thing move and jump and breathe. There are a few clever moments when the "third wall" is broken and the audience is brought into the fray, and there is a fine realism to the acting in this movie.

For those who want to get a jump on the Oscar nominations, Mansfield Park is a sure contender, especially for Best Picture and O'Connor for Best Actress, not to mention Cinematography and Costume Design. Too bad Austen herself isn't around and eligible for a screenwriting Oscar. She's still a hot property.

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