Thursday, April 05, 2007

mansfield park

Prompted by Ayaan's short but accurate analysis, I thought I'd dig back a couple of weeks to give my thoughts on the ITV dramatisation of Mansfield Park, which collected some decent reviews, good ratings and won more praise for Billie Piper, all in the course of an evening. As Ayaan, over at her Of Shoes - And Ships - And Sealing Wax blog points out, there will never "be a good adaptation on Mansfield Park because people insist on changing Fanny completely", and this is true insofar as the ITV drama simply changed the whole point of Austen's novel. Piper plays Price as worthy but luminous, moral but essentially fun - this makes for an attractive protagonist and, genuinely, a good drama, but it doesn't stop it being wrong (wrong not in the perjorative sense, but 'innacurate'), the whole point being, in Ayaan's words, that Fanny is "dutiful and moral and nothing else".

This being TV period drama, however, the heroines have been eyebrow-plucked and the cleavages hoisted and, actually, rather a good job is made of making the whole thing look sexy and bright, quite an achievement for one of Austen's least glamorous books. The camera work darts and sweeps, ignoring long establishing shots for quickfire movement, which gives the on-form Piper and her (leaden) male lead plenty of opportunity to play with glimpses and glances at the edges of frames. Plotwise, there's plenty for Austen-addicts to gnash their teeth about - the whole Portsmouth section is excised, meaning that when Fanny's brother turns up there's no emotional tug worth bothering with, and the curse of the younger sisters, something which blights every Austen dramatisation, means that the siblings are sometimes mentioned, sometimes not - although at least they're not disposed with altogether. Michelle Ryan, meanwhile, gets to indulge in a little mischief behind a heavy curtain which would have made Ms. Austen's eye's water.

But shovelling a complex novel into a ninety minute drama as if it were a size zero dress means that one really has to come to terms with the fact that dramatic license will always overtake the integrity of the story. Once one has reluctantly accepted this (and I really would, incidentally, have liked ITV bring the same high production standards and liveliness to a proper four or six parter) it's perfectly easy to enjoy this slice of vibrant period drama. Northanger Abbey was similarly impressive the next week, and Persuasion, Austen's most rewarding novel, got good reviews although I haven't seen it yet. Either way, it's nice to see Austen back on prime time.

1 comment:

Ayaan said...

I've been away from the internet for a couple of weeks, so I'm a little bit late in saying: thank you for your (overabundant) praise of my blog.

I saw Persuasion, and enjoyed it. I liked the use of the diary to reveal Anne's inner thoughts as she really doesn't talk a lot, which I didn't notice in the book. I could have done with out the constant breaking of the fourth wall to stare at the audience, it was incredibly unsettling and took me out of the action.

I didn't mind the running around at the end, as I was distracted by a friend of mine at Bath University who texted me to say she lived around the corner from where Anne and Wentworth were.

Northanger Anney was definitely the best of the bunch.