Rozema's adaptation of Austen's Mansfield Park and Juvenilia

by Ellen Moody

Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price

[In 1999 I went to see the 1999 Mansfield Park with my younger daughter. I noticed everywhere people complaining about the movie. From supposedly judicious criticims to vehement attacks, there was a rush to condemn. I disagreed. I liked the movie. So I wrote the following review of Rozema's Mansfield Park in the style of an essay-posting and sent it to Janeites and C18-l. Recently (2005) I resaw both the 1995 BBC Pride and Prejudice and this Mansfield Park again and, although I am still strongly persuaded it is in technique and point of view much like all the other Austen adaptations, I do agree, that like the failed film adaptation of Northanger Abbey, Mansfield Park offended the Austen audience because it departed from the very conventional presentation of sex that we find in Austen films. I wrote about this in my blog and I have put the blog column here too. A second member of Austen-l, Pat Cooper-Smith, has graciously consented to my putting on this document her reply to my commentary on Rozema's MP and my blog, "Sex in Austen Films".]

Re: The 1999 MP: A Interesting Adaptation of Austen texts

I have just come home from watching the Miramax/BBC production of Mansfield Park, directed by Patricia Rozema, with Francis O'Connor as Fanny Price, Harold Pinter as Sir Thomas Bertram, Lindsay Duncan doubling as Lady Bertram and Mrs Price, Johnny Lee Miller as Edmund, Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford, Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford, and other actors whose names I can't remember. The screenplay is by Patricia Rozema. My argument is that this movie adaptation has real merit and has been misrepresented in many of the descriptions and reviews I have read.

Most centrally it reminded me very much of all the film adaptations of Jane Austen's novels I have seen and now studied (as I wrote "Jane Austen Goes to the Movies", a review article for an the Eighteenth-Century Intelligencer. Rozema's film adaptation has the same strengths and the same weaknesses as most of them. Like two of the more recent adaptations the 1995 S&S and Persuasion, it has 'lots of psychological depth and understanding'. Rozema did understand and convey a good deal of inner life of the book. Not the overt didacticism which so many people seem to come away from the book with, but the marginalisation of Fanny herself, what it feels like to be so insecure, nor the keen hurt of someone subject to continual disrespect. She got Edmund's sensitivity right: towards the end of the film Miller-Edmund said he has been so anxious to do right, he has forgotten to think about what right might be in a particular situation (or words to this effect).

Therein lies one problem of this -- and many other adaptations. Rozema takes lines that are said by the narrator or presented as free indirect speech and gives them to characters to say as dramatic speech. Nontheless, it is true to the spirit of the original book. The bitchy lines are for once done justice to; these are connected to a presentation of the Fanny character which is melded with the narrator of tthe Juvenilia.

Francis O'Connor winked at us; she stepped from the frame of the picture to suggest a version of Austen herself. Much of the material to make a spunky radical Austen came from Austen's Juvenilia and some from the letters, but if you read the credits of the film, they do say the film is an adaptation of MP, Austen's Juvenilia and Austen's letters. This mixing element makes the movie differ from other adaptations of Austen -- though in the 1995 S&S Brandon gives Marianne a piano and that is a take-over from Austen's Emma where Frank Churchill gives Jane Fairfax a piano. Nonetheless, it is new to play with the audience in Rozema's way.

Slavery has been an important issue in recent studies of Austen's MP. Does Austen treat it adequately? Does she treat it at all? Well, the issue is brought forward in the film, though only through a couple of scenes and the depiction of Tom Crawford as deeply traumatised by what he saw. The conversations are brief; what Rozema does is add to the novel her knowledge that Austen read an anti-slavery book at the time by Clarkson. However, this conversation is short. Fanny is also told by Edmund that slavery supports her too while they are out riding. Fanny is told she is the beneficiary of the slavery she so abhors, something which reminds me of deconstructionist criticism. Finally, Tom has brought home some drawings he made of so shocked him. They appear to be drawings of Sir Thomas (played by Harold Pinter) forcing sex on black slaves. Still slavery is kept in the background. We never go to Antigua. Basically the theme of the marginalised and oppressed is centered on Fanny herself. The film insists that Fanny remains an outsider, a semi-servant, someone tolerated whose position at the Park is precarious. She is easily shunted off to Portsmouth once she rejects Crawford. And Portsmouth is realistically presented as a desperate household.

Like the 1995 S&S and Persuasion, this MP takes advantage of the new computerised mermerising sound and colour techniques, the continual movement of the camera. Still these sorts of intense motion are not overdone. We are actually given scenes in which the actors are given a pause to act subtle drama out in (rare in the 1995 BBC P&P which I would say transgresses the spirit of the original book far more than MP). The same kinds of use of Austen's text and Lovers Vow is made in this MP as was made in the 1983 BBC _MP_ except perhaps with less dramatic tact; that is both the previous and this movie used lines from Inchbald's Lovers Vows. I Nivola's Crawford was much sexier than the boyish man who played Crawford in the previous film, but that made the experience Fanny and Maria have make more sense. However, equally strong in effect are the scenes between Edmund and Fanny where they are intensely attracted to one another and the powerful outrage of Sir Thomas when Fanny refuses Crawford.

Too much has been made of the lesbian eroticism of the two scenes which occur between Mary Crawford and Fanny in the film; I wasn't startled at all. I am told some nudity was cut, and there is little nudity in the pre-1995 films. But I was not made to feel Mary and Fanny were the lovers; no, Edmund and Fanny were; as were Maria and Henry when Maria had experienced the still life as the wife of an oaf she is bored with and Henry is rejected by Fanny and angry. I was also not bothered by the scene of Henry and Maria naked in bed. How else convey what happened to an audience today?

Accurate historical costuming characterised the film. The characters' teeth were not great; their clothes not immacuately clean, wrinkle free, the buildings not astonishingly bright, luxurious with all their parts perfectly symmetrical. At the same time -- as in the other Austen adaptations, women's breasts were clearly to the fore, we had the dream-drenched green landscapes. There is a gothic like sequence at Mansfield when Fanny first arrives and again when Tom gets sick, but this is matched by similar sequences in the 1995 S&S. I am not sure the building imagined by Austen would have looked like the sparkling building that graces the Brideshead Revisited film. These buildings were piles of stone, and stone stains.

Of course I was irritated at moments -- as I have been in all the film adaptations. Where Austen presents a theme subtly, Rozema and her screenplay writer hit us over the head with a hammer. Lindsay Duncan as Mrs Price comes to tell Fanny that there is nothing evil in marrying for money, and grimaces theatrically as her coarse drunken husband calls her to his bed. Mary Crawford's desire to see Tom die so Edmund may replace him is given the poor actress as an explicit speech. Far from a femme fatale, this film's Embeth Davidzt as Mary was gauche, and more inadequate to the moment than the roles and speeches given Tom, Sir Thomas, Maria Betram, and Henry Crawford. Somehow the film made the non-macho sincere Edmund touching. The irritation came from giving him speeches which were thoughts of the narrator in the novel. I have always been puzzled at why audiences will sit through these stilted pieces. Rozema lacks Austen's dramatic tact and sense of what naturalistic dialogue takes.

I also was bothered by the sudden shifts in tempo to indicate comedy. This reminded me of the first BBC P&P (1978) and the old Tom Jones movie (Albert Finney as Tom). Yet even here the moral was right: at the end it is repeatedly many times that it could easily have ended differently, it just happened to end this way. When Austen pulls down the curtain in her novel, she implies this and again when Fanny and Edmund fall in love. Nothing propinks like propinquity.

I wasn't offended by Fanny at first accepting and then rejecting Henry; it echoed Austen's life for those in the know (the Bigg--Wither incident); it also conveyed what is Austen's Fanny's hesitation and real movement in the direction of Henry at Portsmouth. If anything disappointed me as omitted from the original book it was the bland presentation of Mrs Norris. Sheila Gish was given very little to do, and made harmless I suppose the modern movie-maker either cannot imagine or doesn't not want to show how an older woman who has power over a younger one can poison her existence, and humiliate her to the point of real self-maiming. This was an important element in this and other novels to Austen, the spinster dependent on her family members for comfort and peace.

I did find disappointing and unreal the depictions of Lady Bertram and Mrs Price in this film. Lindsay Duncan overdid Mrs Price's abject misery. She was too hard as Mrs Price and too soft and sexy as Lady Bertram. Rozema had Lindsay Duncan as Lady Bertram massaging her Pug sexually. She has taken Fragonard's The Swing and Watteau's pictures of ladies in bed with their dogs too seriously. I much preferred the 1983 MP Anna Massey's and Angela Pleasance's Ward sisters in Sir Thomas's house, the one his semi-servant, semi-peer, the other his bed-companion and decorative object about the house. Massey as Mrs Norris looked a little scary, made of rusted hard iron where the rest of us are neurons, sharply aggressive; Pleasance as Lady Bertram was all compliance, but also slightly nervous (as in front of Edmund at one moment in the book) and quietly alert when Sir Thomas was about. And so Lady Bertram was in Austen's novel.

Harold Pinter was strong as Sir Thomas. The scene over the lack of a fire in the attic did seemed forced, and in the book Fanny is not present at Sir Thomas's and Mrs Norris's humiliating words about her position. In this movie she is made to overhear it. Thus this Sir Thomas comes across as meaner, colder, and the hints about his sexual activities in Antigua are meant further to blacken his character. Nonetheless, as an actor Pinter did what he could. He was occasionally sexy, and very angry. His sterness towards Fanny was well done. His grief over Tom's sickness was effective.

This movie brings the book to life in the ways the film adapations of Austen's books usually do. We have beautifully shot glimpses of Portsmouth, the sea, the ships, the characters dancing, of rooms with the characters sitting there in tension and frustration and ironic moments. There was an attempt to dress them operatically for their parts in the play. It does seem to me there were far less people in the audience than I expected, and I know that the film came to my neighborhood theatre rather quickly. If the film fails to stay in the theatres I would put it down to the following: the stars are not true stars and not glamourously gorgeous; in fact the film moves slowly at times and gives the audience a chance to enter slowly into the emotional predicaments and intensities of the characters, and -- most of all -- the advertising campaign has been misguided. It has been suggested the film falls between two stools: it tries to please the crowd who want sensational sex and pop cant sentimental attitudes and gives us glamorised costume drama which pleases audiences by lulling them into identifying with the rich and leisured of earlier times. I can't say it doesn't do the latter -- although like the 1995 Persuasion it does reveal a non-pretty world of sickness which is not curable (in the scenes by Tom's bedside). But it turns between these two awkward stools no more than did the 1995 S&S and Persuasion and considerably less than did the 1995 BBC P&P and the Miramax Emma (with Gweneth Paltrow). By those places where it intelligently interprets and presents the texts, it offers an attractive and moving dramatic visualisation of the original text in terms of moving pictures. In those places where it feels it has to depart from the original, and where it falls down in tact in comparison to Austen, it throws interesting lights on the original book versus our own time.

This book means so much to me. Since I read it at 15 I think there has scarcely been a year when I didn't reread it, and it so often comes to mind as analogous to situations in my life. I identify with Fanny and see her version of strength as the one possible to vulnerable people in the real world. Probably that was why I came out gratified by many phases of the film. I liked how the film used Fanny to figure forth the young Austen writing wacky, violent and subversive lines in the Juvenilia. It's true we lose the solitary girl, the one who is apart from others; we lose her sadness, but not her self-containment. I don't see Francis O'Connor as spunky so much as proud and occasionally seething. I don't know that others would join in in delighting with how slowly she and Edmund are erotically drawn to one another, and the tender affection and sweet sexual-coming together on the bench at the end they experience as I did. I liked how their hands were pictured next to one another in a carriage, the focus on her thighs next to his. Still I would say that just as with the other intelligent film adapations of Austen's novels (by which I mean to omit the recent NA which panders by substituting lurid sensation for Austen's book and is to my mind the worst adaptation I have ever seen), anyone interested in Austen's book makes a mistake not to see Rozema's film. Silly Rozema. She has misrepresented her own product in an effort to get people into her theatre who won't go there in the first place.

I did note that the bonnets in this film differed considerably from the one worn by the Mary Crawford of the 1983 MP and Jennifer Ehle as Elizabeth Bennet in the 1995 P&P. In those cases the two leading ladies seemed to be wearing the same old-fashioned bonnet. In fact the clothes did differ from earlier pictures as did the furniture in the rooms. It was more bare. There was an emphasis on the windows for their own sake, thick mullioned ones. I delighted in how Fanny's attic was got up, the use of the library, Henry Crawford reading Sterne's Sentimental Journey to Fanny (just that phrase that is alluded to in the novel). I liked their scene walking on a stone wall at Portsmouth (perhaps it was the spithead?). This walk recalled the filming of the Cobb at Lyme Regis in Persuasion.

I hope eventually there will be a screenplay and book of the film to buy.

Ellen Moody

A reply by Andy Duncan:

The screenplay is also by the director, Patricia Rozema. I'm glad to read a positive review; the others I've seen have been quite grumpy. -- Andy

Andy Duncan
Department of English

Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price with Alessandro Nivola as Henry Crawford in a scene that parallels Amanda Root as Anne Elliot and Ciarhan Hinds as Wentworth in the 1995 Persuasion)

4 June 2005

Embeth Davidtz as Mary Crawford at the de rigueur dancing party with Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram

Sex in Austen films (but especially the 2nd BBC _P&P_ & Rozema's _MP_)

My dear Fanny,

I feel a little self-conscious addressing you as last night Izzy and I watched Francis O’Connor playing someone with your name in the 1999 Miramax Mansfield Park, screenplay and director Patricia Rozema. It was such a popular name in your period and seems almost to have vanished as a nickname since the later 19th century.

Still, this past Monday Isabel and I finished our 6 part version of Pride and Prejudice, the 1995 A&E BBC (screenplay Andrew Davies, director Simon Langton), lavish and reverential production with Colin Firth as Darcy, Jennifer Ehle (in a dark wig) as Elizabeth Bennet, Benjamin Whitrow as Mr Bennet & Alison Steadman as Mrs B. As I’ve written essays in the form of postings to Austen-l and Janeites and C18-l (and all sorts of lists) on the individual novels (Sense and Sensibility, Mansfield Park, and Northanger Abbey and put some of these postings online on my website about adaptations of Jane Austen’s novels, plus written review essays, whch were published, and where I again examine and discuss the films as a whole and individually, plus all my calendars and review essays of criticism of Austen’s novels and sketches of my trip to Bath, In Search of Austen, Burney and Radcliffe too, and analysis of the Austen criticism and biographical tradition, plus on Bath itself, to write again may be a work of supererogation, except I find I have changed my mind or have yet more things to add (says she smiling at the richness of Austen’s texts and all that has grown up around their aura).

First the BBC P&P is better than I thought. I watched it late at night over 2 nights and was not alert. I was also prejudiced in favor of the grave and emotion- picture tendency of the 1995 Miramax Sense and Sensibility (screenplay Emma Thompson with Emma as Elinor Dashwood) and the 1995 BBC Persuasion (screenplay Roger Dear, director Roger Michell with Ciarhan Hinds as Captain Wentworth). There is strong comedy in Austen and the 1995 P&P does it justice; it moves between melodrama and comic send-up and it works. The production often used Austen’s words felicitiously. The quarrel scenes between Elizabeth and Darcy and again Elizabeth and Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Barbara Leigh-Hunt is not tall, not regal enough but she was mean and tough) were effective. Yes it pandered to romance at the end.

I did think Colin Firth did much better with the role after Darcy has had a change of heart and encounters Elizabeth at Pemberly. I know this is heterodox but I’ve felt that the portrait of Darcy as it presently appears in the truncated (much cut down from a longer First Impressions) is not persuasively real. Firth looked embarrassed as he smoldered ever so proud. He began to come to life during the repartee of the dancing at Netherfield Park ball that Tuesday night. Firth managed the proposal scene by stark enunciation. He really came alive when his spirit bent and the vulnerable self could come forth at Pemberly. He was very moving in quest for the sister.

I did notice something which runs through many of these productions. I had not noticed this before: all the main characters we are supposed to like and to admire are not only continually put into activity (running, riding when the script allows, dancing), the actresses are made to look slightly plump, buxom, like ripe slender cows. All very wholesome sex is what is projected. You’d think the directors had read the critic who continually sees Austen as a business woman and her books as filled with "healthy sex." Females who deviate from this ripeness (say the actress playing Mary Bennet) are clearly not what we want to be. In this atmosphere it’s hard for Adrian Lukis to project the kinky sexed Wickham in quite the way he wanted to: he comes across merely as naughty and bored by Lydia (the ultimate healthy animal).

This is what Austen comes to in all the recent film adaptations. The actresses in Rozema’s MP—with the exception of the actress playing Mary Crawford (Embeth Davidtz) were dressed with corsets to make the eyes of the viewer dwell on their breasts so supermothers you see (you’d have thought any minute the milk would leak out of the Maria Bertram (Victoria Hamilton) so eager was she for Henry Crawford to come near. And that Mary Crawford was slender and oblique in her alluring looks is clearly a "sign" she’s no good. Her breasts were kept neatly away except when she was more overt and nasty or after Fanny. And then she was in elegant black lace. Susannah Harker as Jane in the BBC P&P is an enormous smooth fleshy type (all wide shoulders and height) who was made to radiate placidity and compliance. No wonder Crispin Bonham- Carter (Bingley) was all eager smiles, all brightness on the edge.

Nonetheless, the Rozema MP is as good as film as the others and resembles them in all the many ways these films resemble one another. I wrote about these resemblances for the Eighteenth Century Newsletter.

However, I have to change my mind here too. I had thought that the Rozema film MP departed no more from the original book than most of these adaptations, which is to say a good deal. Folk archetypes are put in place of the characters Austen conceived, and the plot-designs reshaped to modern benevolent romance. Yes the slavery part of the book is brought out sharply, and there is a much darker interpretation of the characters at times. But so is there adult pessimism in the other films.

What really distinguishes the MP is the open sex, and lesbian sex and the lack of wholesomeness in the attitudes towards the body. The scenes between Fanny (O’Connor) and Mary Crawford (Davidtz) visualize women desiring one another. Sir Thomas (Harold Pinter) grows livid with nightmarish anger and shame at Tom’s drawings of sex and violence wreaked on humiliated beaten slaves. Henry Crawford (the deliciously sexy Alessandro Nivola) is alluring in what feels like dangerous Sadean possibilities.

That is the difference and since that is the difference and this one film failed and all the others succeded—except for a similarly non-wholesome Northanger Abbey1, so we can see what offended the American general audience. Is not it ironic, dear Fanny? Austen who never married, who looked askance and with pity on women who have not a "chance of escape" (see below on her niece quickly exhausted and individually destroyed—Anna in a fit of despair burnt a manuscript one night), Austen whose books are filled with a sense of the evasiveness, danger and ugly competitions and triumphs of sex against which characters like Edmund and Elinor have learnt to protect themselves, and turn away, should have her heroines turned physically into sheer fleshiness. That’s why Kate Winslett was chosen for Marianne: her body epitomizes what’s wanted by respectable men with lineages and presentability to protect.

Austen wrote in a letter to Cassandra:

"Anna has not a chance of escape; her husband called here the other day, & said she was pretty well but not equal to "so long a walk; she must come in her "Donkey Carriage." Poor Animal, she will be worn out before she is thirty. I am very sorry for her. Mrs Clement too is in that way again. I am quite tired of so many Children. Mrs Benn has a 13th…" (Jane Austen’s Letters, ed. Le Faye 336, Letter dated Sunday 23- Tuesday 25 March 1817).

The question is how we are seen to be fucked. The issue (connected to the films as they visualize life), what’s at stake in these films, is what we are fucked for.

What is female pleasure? Where is it found? Dancing? All the films include dance sequences. Someone ought to analyse and compare these.

One more comment and I’ll have done: Isabel commented that the actor playing Edmund Bertram (Jonny Lee Miller) was actually
more like what we are to imagine Steven Maturin (from Patrick O’Brien’s books) than Paul Bettany. I agree. Miller has an intense nervous look, an elegance of muscularity and implicit disdain in his bearing (one which comes out of eschewing all baseness, not from caste arrogance), and it’s that Austen endows her Darcy, Edmund, and Wentworth with. S&S does not have enough in it of Colonel Brandon: he’s not realized sufficiently for us to see this in him, nor for that matter Edward Ferrars. Henry Tilney is a much gayer type altogether, though with the same vein of twitching sensitivity.

Isabel and I are listening to Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters read aloud by Maureen O’Brien as we drive in my car. I see so many parallels between the types in Gaskell’s novel and Austen’s MP and Emma. Fanny and Edmund lie behind Gaskell’s Molly and Roger Hamley; Roger Hamley is a young Mr Knightley, the village gossips kept harmless in Emma are shown to be malicious in the later book. One has to admit that Austen (whether we like this or not) has drawn much of the worst sting out of reality in Emma.

Well enough for today,


1 Marilyn Roberts’s “Adapting Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey: Catherine Morland as Gothic heroine," is an essay which discussed the one other failed film. Roberts praises the BBC/A&E 1995 film adaptation of Northanger Abbey for its “Lacanian and Freudian” understanding of Gothic romance, suggests it is an adaptation of Ann Radcliffe’s Mysteries of Udolpho as well as Austen’s novel and failed commercially because it sexualizes Austen’s novel grotesquely. In fact, the film’s character functions and visualizations draw upon transgressive and depressive imagery from other gothic films, and the film failed because its departures from the conventions of women’s emotion pictures frustrated its target audience’s expectations. These expectations include conventional ever-so-healthy wholesome sex (heroines as burgeoning mothers, heroes as kind protectors).

Reply from Pat Cooper-Smith, 7 June 2005

Dear Ellen, I have just finished reading your “Sex in Austen Films” essay with particular interest. I am a long-time supporter of Rozema’s MP and have, over the years, taken some direct hits from Janeites. While I do have an M.A. in English Lit, I am not an academic and I consciously avoid lit crit speak. I’m an old-fashioned reader with a deep faith in the text.

Adaptations are hard to swallow for the “nothing can be as good as the novel crowd.” For example, I recently watched the film “The Hustler,” an adaptation of Walter Tevis’s novel of the same name, with a book club group. Most were upset that the screenwriter/producer had changed the plot to the point where it changed not only the ending but the motivation of the protagonist, Fast Eddy Felson. Yet, because few people had read the novel before Jackie Gleason and Paul Newman made it famous with the film, it became a hit movie. Not so, as we know, with Jane Austen adaptations that dare to take liberties.

I especially enjoyed your comparison between Rozema’s MP and other Austen films. While I regularly default to the A&E/BBC P&P when I want a lift, I’m always amazed that Austen devotees do not grouse about the stylized lives of its characters. In my opinion, the closest to reality the film gets is Mrs. Bennet’s behavior (who wouldn’t be hysterical in her situation?) and when Elizabeth gets the hem of her skirt muddy. Yet, Janeites flock to the film to escape. I

n contrast, in Rozema’s MP, when Fanny is sent home to Portsmouth, we see firsthand that what is at stake is not just banishment from the Park but possibly Fanny’s life. Rozema’s squalid scenes at Portsmouth show that if Fanny were left in Portsmouth, not only would her life drastically change but her life in terms of health could be jeopardized. Fanny not only faces a live of poverty but also a life of poor nutrition and an earlier death.

You are right that Rozema is not subtle. Yet, while Janeites can spend countless hours discussing the nitty-gritty of life in Regency England, they don’t want to see it on screen. They delight in demonstrating that Jane Austen was not a prude, had a healthy, liberal education, and knew the facts of life and economics. Yet, when Rozema’s MP was released, the banshee cry went out to every corner of the land – it was a betrayal and Rozema had no right to title the film “Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. Janeites, it appears, want a clean, stylized, gentile England with an Elinor patiently wrapping presents for the servants before they are laid off to Gods-knows where or what, or an Emma scheming to promote a subtly illegitimate Harriet, or idle young people (unconsciously living off the slavery of others) producing a risque play.

In my opinion, Rozema was creative and innovative in melding Jane Austen, the writer/person, with Fanny Price. I enjoyed it very much when Fanny, channeling Jane Austen, stepped forward, winked, spoke to the camera, and revealed herself. I believe that, as a writer, Jane Austen would have been charmed by this technique. I see this as nothing more than a technique to engage the audience and to give them a stake in the story and the film. It is just possible, perhaps, that Jane Austen may have, from time to time, stood in her characters shoes when writing the novels. Further, I believe that Jane Austen would not have been against taking a new look at something. Rozema disassembled MP and put it back together to create a new point of view. Something new, yes, but nothing sinister.

It’s true that Rozema brings a darker vision to MP with its slavery depictions, Maria’s semi- nude romp with Henry, and Mary Crawford’s not-so-latent lesbian move on Fanny. However, the reader cannot ignore or sweep into the closet the fact that slavery via Antigua, Maria’s very real indiscretion, and Mary Crawford’s questionable ethical and moral life are present in the novel. In fact, Henry and Mary Crawford stand out from the rest in their mysteriously, perverse urbane lives. The Jane Austen we know through her text and remaining letters suggests the reasons why she handled the slavery and sexual side of MP as she did, but there is so much we don’t know about the personal and private Jane Austen and, in my opinion, this is where Rozema’s MP shines. Rozema dares to ask, “what if?”

Austen’s MP is a dark, moral novel with a happy ending. So is Rozema’s. One is from the late 18th Century, the other from the late 20th Century. What would Austen have written at 52? At 62? Unfortunately, we can only speculate as to her maturation as a writer. Looking at a progression of her ironic cynicism in the novels, it’s possible that Austen might have blown the lid off what had come before.

You are correct when you say, “Silly Rozema. She has misrepresented her own product in an effort to get people into her theatre who won’t go there in the first place.” Was Rozema naive? No, she is an artist who told the story her way in much the same way Shakespeare’s Richard II, when told in 1930s German black leather, puts a new spin on an old story.

Please keep up your forthright criticism. I look forward to reading more.

Pat Cooper-Smith
Carson City, Nevada – Yep, the Wild West, where, even if you tried, you couldn’t fill a theatre with any Jane Austen film.

Frances O'Connor as Fanny Price kissing as Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram

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