Monday, August 31, 2020

Reviewing Jane: Those Who Have Not More Must Be Satisfied With What They Have


Year: 1990
Director: Whit Stillman
Cast: Carolyn Farina, Edward Clements, Chris Eigeman 
Run Time: 1 hour 38 minutes
MPAA Rating: PG-13

In the history of Jane Austen on film, there have been only two directors who have adapted her work twice. The first is hardly worth acknowledging, because it's David Winning who brought us the malodorous Hallmark adaptations Unleashing Mr. Darcy and Sense, Sensibility, and Snowmen. The second is certainly more interesting: Whit Stillman, who mounted the excellent novella adaptation Love & Friendship in 2015, originally made his debut upon the indie scene 25 years earlier with the extremely loose Mansfield Park adaptation Metropolitan. While it's easy to see his roots in his first feature film, let's see how he measures up against his future self, shall we?

We're doing this Looper style!

There's really not much plot to talk about in Metropolitan. It follows a group of preppy debutants in Manhattan through a series of parties and dances in the span of about a fortnight leading into and out of Christmas. It opens when poor but self-satisfied college student Tom Townshend (Edward Clements) is invited to a party and ingratiates himself among the upper crust, which includes his ex-girlfriend Serena (Ellia Thompson). Fellow prep Audrey (Carolyn Farina) clearly has the hots for him. At least, it's clear to everyone but Tom. 

She will NOT have a good Christmas, my friends.

Metropolitan is one of the few modern Austen films to hit before the watershed year of 1995 that brought her back to pop culture like a roaring hurricane. So naturally it takes quite a different shape, one that surely influenced the similarly indie outing Ruby in Paradise, which is also so loose an adaptation that it requires characters to specifically discuss Jane Austen in order to draw any sort of parallel. It's a film singularly unconcerned with anything other than character, willing to dispense with plot in order to simmer in a light stew of minutely variable personalities.

To be fair, that probably is the closest connection the film has to Mansfield Park (other than a poor person hanging with annoying rich people). It wants to paint these characters with as fine a brush as possible, though the satire is a little less pointed and - let's face it - funny than it is in Austen's novel. I'm perfectly willing to concede that maybe I just wasn't in the mood or perhaps am not highbrow enough to appreciate what is going on here.

I can handle a film that's just conversations, but when it's just conversations and those conversations are only with people I find uniquely irritating that unspool unbated in every single scene, it's certainly more of a struggle. I get that we're not supposed to like these people. But the whole point of watching the movie is to unscrew their brains and see the way they idly toy with one another and snootily bloviate about intellectual topics they have no actual insight into before being batted about the tide of reality like a deflated beach ball. This last part is perfectly enjoyable to watch, but until then it's pretty excruciating.

Notice how almost all of these screenshots look exactly the same.

I can see the DNA of Love & Friendship loud and clear, at least, especially in Stillman's facility with guiding actors through lengthy scenes of complicated, interlocking dialogue (it's certainly easier to watch in a period piece than a modern milieu). But with everything else, they required the sharpened instincts of a more veteran director. Metropolitan is flabby and tiresome, hitting its point too often and too hard without attempting to do much of anything else.

Or maybe what I'm most bothered by is its transparent interest in being an early Woody Allen movie, something that has somewhat lost its flavor in recent years (and decades) I daresay. I have a lot of baggage against this one, so if you need to place my non-recommendation into context, let's just say that it's not particularly interesting to any self-respecting Austen fan. Or even a self-hating Austen fan. There are certainly worse Austen movies out there, and those ones even have something to do with the novels!

TL;DR: Metropolitan is content to sink into quietude, which is its right, but I don't have to like it.
Rating: 5/10
Word Count: 720
Other Films Based on Mansfield Park
Metropolitan (Stillman, 1990)
Mansfield Park (Rozema, 1999)
Mansfield Park (MacDonald, 2007)

Wednesday, August 12, 2020

Tears For Fears: Cry For Help

Year: 2020
Director: Jayro Bustamante
Cast: María Mercedes Coroy, Sabrina De La Hoz, Margarita Kenéfic
Run Time: 1 hour 37 minutes

Like all the best horror villains, La Llorona is never quite dead. You may recall the massive undertaking of winter 2019, when I decided to review every movie (or at least every accessible movie) featuring the Mexican folk legend of the weeping woman, leading me down a path of over a dozen movies ranging from the very beginning of silent horror cinema in Latin America to the adventures of famous luchador Santo to a bunch of dumb slasher movies dolled up in folklore drag, culminating in The Curse of La Llorona, the latest effort in the extended Conjuring universe. 

Like most of my marathons, this one shall be resurrected every time La Llorona wails her way across movie screens, and this time the perpetrator is the online streaming service Shudder, which has brought us this highbrow horror effort from Guatemalan director Jayro Bustamante.

Don't cry! Nothing's ever over!

This incarnation of La Llorona (it's the fourth film by that name) is about retired dictator Enrique Monteverde (Julio Diaz) and his family. The aging despot, who is dealing with encroaching Alzheimer's, is currently standing trial for the genocide of the Mayan Ixil people under his regime. Although a judge declared him guilty, the ruling was overturned and he and his wife Carmen (Margarita Kenéfic), daughter Natalia (Sabrina De La Hoz), and granddaughter Sara (Ayla-Elea Hurtado) return home, only to find out that every one of their indigenous servants has abandoned them except for the implacable Valeriana (María Telón). 

They are also under the care of super hot security guard Letona (Juan Pablo Olyslager), whose job has gotten a whole lot harder since protestors have been surrounding the building nonstop after the trial. When new maid Alma (María Mercedes Coroy) arrives, carrying nothing but her extremely long J-horror hair, things take a turn for the uncanny. I can't quite put my finger on it, but the way she keeps trying to hold Sara underwater to "teach her how to hold her breath" reminds me of someone...

Now who could that be?

So when I approached La Llorona, I was curious what take it would have on the famous legend. Immediately it announces its intentions to position her as a force of indigenous revenge upon future generations of colonizers. This common approach was first brought to the screen in 1933, so it's not particularly new, but it remains an especially potent aspect of the legend. It's very clear from the first blush that the film is brimming with ideas about how to implement this theme, looping in the way that the sins of the parents fall on the heads of the children, the ways that people who benefit from racial crimes without endorsing them are still complicit, and the way one's past has an implacable way of coming to crush them.

Unfortunately, ideas are not enough to build a feature film. You need characters, narrative, conflict, etc., and La Llorona boasts about as little of that as it can get away with without just playing a test pattern for 80 minutes. I'm not here to argue that "this horror movie isn't scary," even though it isn't. It's clear it's trying to build a sustained mood rather than deliver a few cheap jolts, and I don't begrudge it of that. But when that sustained mood is "women staring out of windows from underneath severe haircuts," it's hard not to be at least a little disappointed. 

Although Carmen's hair is immaculate and I worship it.

Plus, the way the film treats its titular villain is immensely frustrating. I will concede that I have no knowledge of how Guatemalan culture specifically interacts with the Llorona legend, so maybe I'm approaching it from a too North American perspective, but the hallmarks of her story are barely used here. Sure there might be a distant wail echoing through the halls at night on occasion, but beyond that even the basic building blocks of the legend are nowhere to be found. We sure get the message that Alma is up to something spooky, given her tendency to stare hollow-eyed and unspeaking into the middle distance, but most of the film's feints at building dread are entirely laughable. One instance, where her hair is blowing mysteriously, reveals that Sara is just using a hairdryer out of frame. This scene in a vacuum might be acceptable, but everything spooky about her is undermined with a cut rate Simpsons gag like this, so it's hard to let the dread sink under your skin.

And usually these slow boil horror films are building toward an explosion of mayhem in the final ten minutes (see: Hereditary), but La Llorona doesn't so much boil over as quietly evaporate. I honestly think the scariest moment in the movie beyond one 30-second stretch just before the end is when a faucet turns on by itself. It gives us almost nothing except a quiet, elliptical meditation on the indigenous experience in Guatemala. I hardly think it's a bad thing to explore the plight of indigenous peoples in countries across the globe, but I think the story could maybe have been better served if it wasn't wrapped up in the trappings of a genre it barely wants to engage with. 

Visually, at least it's trying something. The frequent overexposed lighting is not something that specifically appeals to me, nor is the deliberate and languorous camerawork that slowly pans in and out of carefully arranged tableaux, but it delivers a very clear vision, even if it's not to my taste. And moments like the increasing pounding from the protesters on the outside of the ambulance carrying the family home show hints of the dread we might have been experiencing later on in the film if the characters weren't quite so hollow and the narrative being played out quite so tedious. If the idea of a film combining La Llorona with Roma, Parasite, and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle intrigues you, I don't blame you. It intrigued me too. Unfortunately that just didn't get me much of anywhere.

TL;DR: La Llorona is good-not-great as an indigenous allegory and wholly boring as a horror film.
Rating: 3/10
Word Count: 1047

Monday, August 10, 2020

Reviewing Jane: My Affections Are Unchanged

 In which we review (almost) every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen.

Year: 2019
Director: Rhonda Baraka
Cast: Tiffany Hines, Juan Antonio, Raney Branch
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

For obvious reasons (people don't like to read that many books), there have been more adaptations of Pride and Prejudice than any other Jane Austen novel. At the time of writing the very last feature length adaptation is Lifetime's Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta, so I can't wait to take a breather on this property until the Hallmark Channel begins its reign of terror once more. And it's always exciting when a modernization of the story translates the tale of Regency romance to a completely different milieu. On the spectrum of these adaptations, this all Black retelling is somewhere closer to the enjoyable Mormon one than the terrific Indian one, but they've all been a breath of fresh air.

At this point I've gotten extremely sick of seeing handsome men in waistcoats anyway. Bring on the handsome men in sweaters!

Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta is narrated by Mrs. Georgina Bennet because they got Jackée Harry to play her so they're gonna milk every last second they can get with her. Mrs. Bennet is the boisterous and marriage-obssessed wife of Reverend Bennet (Reginald VelJohnson, our other bit of TV stunt casting), with whom she has five daughters: the quiet and bookish Mary (Brittney Level), the gossipy Kitty (Alexia Bailey), the woman around town Lydia (Reginae Carter), the sweet and gentle Jane (Raney Branch), and the outspoken political activist Lizzie (Tiffany Hines).

Lizzie has a run-in with a wealthy New York politician who's returned to town to run for local congress, one Will Darcy (Juan Antonio). Even though Jane has immediately fallen in love with Darcy's friend Charles Bingley (Brad James), Darcy and Lizzie have their troubles ahead of them.

Will these two crazy kids ever make it work? Who could know!

At this point I'm kind of running out of fresh thoughts on Pride and Prejudice. The story has dozens of retellings over the last 200 years. And while it's incredibly distressing that we live in a society that - as far as I can tell - has never given even one of the lead roles to a Black person in all that time, it's still a pretty faithful adaptation storywise and thus doesn't have too much to offer beyond a cast that is full of 10/10 knockouts.

At first, it seems like Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta will at least be bringing the energy, with an excellent opening monologue by Jackée introducing the characters with title cards, including her daughters, Charles Bingley, and That Sister of His. And the early scenes where the family is all gathered together ring with excellent chemistry. Maybe this feels fresher because it has more Little Women-y vibes rather than Pride & Prejudice. Once the plot we all know and ostensibly love kicks in, things go from promising to generic in about sixty seconds.

And look: Do I enjoy the book Pride and Prejudice? Of course! It's just that Lizzie and Darcy are not the end-all be-all of human romantic passion.

Unfortunately, despite the cast being super hot, the chemistry just isn't there especially between Lizzie and Darcy. Hines crafts an excellent character, with her love for her family and community bursting warmly from the screen and supporting her character's fervent political values (which include her neighborhood being "underpoliced," a line which the script certainly wouldn't have included if it was written even a couple months later), but the relationship between her and Darcy is underdeveloped as hell. The only hint we get that they might actually like each other is that we all know that's how Pride and Prejudice goes.

I think there is still plenty of juice left in Austen material if we actually spend time adapting into stories with people of color, but in order to push those over the edge, they certainly need to be free of the sheeny shiny prison of television movie standards and limitations. The Lifetime network is as a whole more interesting than Hallmark's aggressively bland cookie cutter material, but it still buffs even its worthiest material under the same identical coat of polish. 

TL;DR: Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta is a wholly pleasant adaptation, even if the drama can't quite wring anything new out of a well-worn story.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 736
Other Films Based on Pride and Prejudice
Pride and Prejudice (Leonard, 1940)
Pride and Prejudice (miniseries - Langton, 1995)
Bridget Jones's Diary (Maguire, 2001)
Pride & Prejudice: A Latter-Day Comedy (Black, 2003)
Bride & Prejudice (Chadha, 2004)
Pride and Prejudice (Wright, 2005)
Unleashing Mr. Darcy (Winning, 2016)
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (Steers, 2016)
Before the Fall (Geisler, 2016)
Marrying Mr. Darcy (Monroe, 2018)
Christmas at Pemberley (Theys, 2018)
Pride, Prejudice, and Mistletoe (McBrearty, 2018)
Pride & Prejudice: Atlanta (Baraka, 2019)

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Reviewing Jane: I Often Think It Odd That It Should Be So Dull

 In which we review (almost) every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen.

Year: 2007
Director: Julian Jarrold
Cast: Anne Hathaway, James McAvoy, Julie Walters 
Run Time: 2 hours
MPAA Rating: PG

If you took the opportunity to read my review for the dutiful downer Miss Austen Regrets, you may have noticed the many comments sniping at literary biopic motion pictures for generally being intolerably stupid. In truth that was largely aimed at Shakespeare in Love. I hadn't seen Becoming Jane since high school so I was willing to assume that my opinion formed at that time would hold no weight, because not only have I come a long way in my approach to analyzing the worth of cinema, I understand infinitely more about Austen and the breadth of her work than I did at the time. Astonishingly, I think I have now become the first person in human history to agree with an opinion I held in high school.

Hold onto your hats, folks.

Becoming Jane is the story of, astonishingly, a young Jane Austen (Anne Hathaway). She is one of those modern women plunked down in the past that we like to position as protagonists in historical dramas, rebelling against gender boundaries and holding fast to her belief that she can contribute more to the world as an author than as some rich man's wife. There is indeed a rich man around to test that theory, the nephew of local fancypants Lady Gresham (Maggie Smith), who she refuses despite the encouragement of her mom (Julie Walters) and dad (James Cromwell). Her heart belongs to another, the uncouth boxer and judge's nephew Tom LeFroy (James McAvoy), even though - would you believe it - she at first finds him prideful and perhaps develops a bit of a prejudice against him.

The course of true love never did run smooth, and it's famous fact that Jane Austen died without ever marrying, but just maybe this youthful romance will inspire her to write six of the most famous books about love of all time.

Starting with Pride & Prejudice, because this movie spits in the face of her publishing history.

Yes, this is one of those incredibly crass movies that posits that all an author has to do to create a literary masterwork is to write down the exact events that are happening in their lives and change the names. So even though it's based on her actual life (extremely loosely, I might have mentioned), we should approach this as an adaptation of one of her novels because it literally is, all the way down to the Lady Catherine de Bourgh of it all.

The core of a Jane Austen novel is the effortless blending of biting satirical observations of the landed gentry with earnest, effective romantic drama. Becoming Jane has neither. As an evocation of Austen's comic gift, Miss Austen Regrets is leaps and bounds ahead of Becoming Jane - and that movie saw fit to have their Jane just wander around quoting all of the best lines of dialogue she had already written. The Austen of Becoming Jane is certainly headstrong and willing to defend the use of irony in her writing, but she almost never indulges herself in it, preferring to hide in corners and cry wherever possible.

And as a romance, Becoming Jane leans entirely on our desire to see the pretty white people make out. They put almost no work into depicting why LeFroy and Austen might actually be interested in one another, they just kind of quietly transition from hate to love offscreen. And sure, they are an aesthetically pleasing couple, but in action it's a little hard to take Hathaway's barely-there British accent too seriously.

Those lips weren't made for accents, they were made for smooching!

I probably shouldn't have expected a multi-faceted study of domestic life and a lady's perspective on romance from a movie that doesn't see fit to have its female lead character speak a significant line of dialogue until about fifteen minutes in, so I guess that's what I get. 

Taken solely as a historical costume drama, Becoming Jane is wholly acceptable, with plenty of beautiful compositions of the bucolic British countryside blooming with a timeless elegance. Although if we're speaking literally, the costumes themselves aren't quite that interesting, damn those prim Regency-era frocks. The only exceptions to the rule of "plain earth tones, let's not make a fuss" are Tom LeFroy's elegant coats and Lady Gresham's voluminous outfits that are ready-made for drag performances.

I've now seen Becoming Jane twice in my life and I have absolutely no desire to ever see it a third. This coming from someone who's halfway through a volume of Jane Austen's letters to her sister Cassandra (also a character in the movie, but so minor as to not actually deserve a mention), which are mostly just descriptions of travel and who was at what balls.

TL;DR: Becoming Jane is a disappointing effort at capturing the wit and wisdom of one of history's greatest authors.
Rating: 4/10
Word Count: 846
Other Films Based on Jane Austen in General
Becoming Jane (Jarrold, 2007)
Miss Austen Regrets (Lovering, 2007)
Austenland (Hess, 2013)

Monday, August 3, 2020

Reviewing Jane: Nothing Ever Fatigues Me But Doing What I Do Not Like

In which we review (almost) every film adapted from or inspired by the works of Jane Austen.

Year: 2007
Director: Jeremy Lovering
Cast: Olivia Williams, Imogen Poots, Hugh Bonneville
Run Time: 1 hour 30 minutes

It is no surprise that Jane Austen got the Shakespeare in Love treatment. Another British writer of popular romance works with an interesting historical life? Yeah, of course. There are only two things surprising about filmmakers cranking out a lightly fictionalized biopic of Austen: the first is that they waited almost a decade to make one, and the second is that they made two in the same goddamn year. The much more well-known Becoming Jane graced screens in 2007, shortly followed on British television by today's subject: Miss Austen Regrets.

Although, from the looks of this poster, maybe I made a mistake and I'm reviewing a 90's slasher movie instead.

Miss Austen Regrets, based on historical record, letters, and a lot of sweaty fantasizing, tells the story of the final months in the life of Jane Austen (Olivia Williams, who played Jane Fairfax in the BBC adaptation of Emma). Around the time that she is trying to get Emma published, she is visiting relatives, specifically her niece Fanny (Imogen Poots) who is deciding whether or not she should invite and accept the proposal of her suitor John Plumptre (Tom Hiddleston, with alarmingly curly hair). Watching this young woman experience love for the first time ignites reminiscences of her former suitors, broken engagements, and all the choices that led her to write and be the woman she is. Things are further complicated by the arrival of an old, now married flame Rev. Brook Bridges (Hugh Bonneville, AKA Paddington's dad).

And she never doesn't wear that bonnet that she has in that one drawing of her that everyone has seen.

Like all literary biopics, no matter how good, Miss Austen Regrets is a teensy bit dumb and doesn't give nearly enough credit to the author's powers of imagination. The characters in these movies always just write down exactly what happens to them and it magically turns into their well-known work (in this case she's directly inspired by the events of the movie to write Persuasion rather than Romeo & Juliet or Pride & Prejudice, so at least the filmmakers assume we're well-read this time). Also, I don't think Jane Austen just walked around saying random lines from her books in conversation as if she had just come up with them on the spot.

Now I don't have enough context for how well the film actually depicts Austen's life (though this watch has inspired me to crack open the giant compendium of her letters that has been collecting dust on my To Read shelf), but frankly that isn't a particularly interesting way to judge a movie regardless. However, that context might have allowed me to get more of a grip on the character study the filmmakers are attempting to play out here. 

Maybe what they're presenting here is entirely out of whatever historical record they could cobble together, but from my vantage point it seems incredibly messy. The script can't decide if Austen is a miserable spinster, a flirty sarcastic minx, a bitter drunk, or a playful feminist icon. And they're certainly not attempting to give her depth by showing she can be all of these things at once, because the tone keep erratically shifting around her (it also can't keep its eye on its secondary characters, shuttling Imogen Poots to the background too often for that storyline to really have the emotional meat on its bones it clearly desires). It's hard to get a bead on what this movie is trying to say about Austen, either psychologically or thematically, and once it ends it leaves you with a profound sense of "oh, that's it?"

Also the costumes are incredibly boring, I don't care if they're authentic. This is CINEMA, people!

Olivia Williams makes a game attempt at shoving all of these different characters into a single suitcase called Jane Austen. Her emotional scenes definitely sing, but they don't fit together in any sort of meaningful order or show any sort of actual progress to the character's arc. Her best moments are when she gets to just sit down with other characters and display her sparkling wit (entirely pilfered from any available Austenana). And at least there's a reliable stable of British acting personalities around to do the things that they do well and amuse eagle-eyed viewers (a special shout-out to Phyllida Law, who played Mrs. Bates in that other 1996 Emma, here playing Austen's mother).

And while Miss Austen Regrets never claimed to be mimicking the tone of one of Austen's novels, the endless references and homages to her work made me expect a film with a tone that was a little less, how you say... fucking depressing. It's a bitter, sad movie whose grueling grimness feels especially unearned by its failures as a character piece. It's certainly not a bad movie, even if it's an unfocused one, but I would certainly have enjoyed it for what it was if it didn't ultimately decide to be so punishing.

TL;DR: Miss Austen Regrets is an insubstantial character study but at least a fairly well-researched one.
Rating: 6/10
Word Count: 881
Other Films Based on Jane Austen in General
Becoming Jane (Jarrold, 2007)
Miss Austen Regrets (Lovering, 2007)
Austenland (Hess, 2013)

Saturday, August 1, 2020

Reviewing Jane: Every Moment Has Its Pleasures And Its Hope

Year: 2007
Director: Iain B. MacDonald
Cast: Billie Piper, Blake Ritson, Hayley Atwell
Run Time: 1 hour 28 minutes

Mansfield Park is my least favorite Jane Austen novel because it has the least dynamic heroine and the most outdate social mores (the drama of an entire colume hinges on the performance of a mildly licentious play), so I can't say I was particularly excited to sit through my second helping after the supremely boring 1999 adaptation. And seeing how the TV adaptations (usually for BBC or Masterpiece or both) as a rule tend to be worse than the theatrical efforts, so how could this have possibly gone right?

Well, casting someone I'm aware of certainly helps. Hey, it's that lady from the one season of Doctor Who that I watched!

In Mansfield Park, Fanny Price (Billie Piper) is a poor young woman who has been raised in the titular country mansion with her rich relatives the Bertrams. Over the course of the past eight years or so she has fallen helplessly in love with her cousin Edmund (Blake Ritson), and we're actually meant to root for them to end up together, so that's another fun thing about 1800's literature. The Bertams' lives are turned upside down with the arrival of siblings Henry (Joseph Beattie) and Mary Crawford (Hayley Atwell), a lothario and a gold digger respectively.

While the Bertram sisters Maria (Michelle Ryan) and Julia (Catherine Steadman) battle it out over Henry despite Maria already being engaged, Edmund seems to be falling for Mary, much to Fanny's chagrin. She spends the entire summer being constantly reminded of her low place in the social hierarchy, subject to the ever-changing whims and vices of the rich folks around her.

And those vices include more than just saucy plays, let me tell you what.

So given everything Mansfield Park had going against it, imagine my surprise when it turned out to be the most entertaining iteration of the story, including the novel itself. I wouldn't dare to suggest it was better than the Austen text, but it's certainly more popcorny and delightful. Everything in the movie is something that can be found in the novel, so it's not exactly reinventing the wheel, but it arranges those elements in a way that's immensely satisfying. It draws out the emotional and humorous flavors of the story while cutting away all the fat that makes the book a bit of a dry read. 

They do fiddle with the character of Fanny a bit (which is necessary to sell her to a modern audience), giving her a bit more inner fire and rebelliousness that makes certain scenes gel poorly, but let's face facts that it would be extremely boring to watch her sit in corners and patiently observe the other characters like she does in the novel. And I adore that the film's approach seems to be "what I did over my horny summer vacation" (the eye fucking in this movie, and at one point thumb-touch fucking, is off the charts).

Also, apropos of nothing, no Jane Austen leading man has had more Hot Topic-looking bangs, thank you 2007.

The clarity of the narrative also allowed me to emotionally invest in the characters in a way I never had before, even if the performances aren't necessarily something to write home about. Hayley Atwell provides a terrific, snippy antagonist and Billie Piper is game for the material, even if she does seem constantly on the verge of tears. But aside from them, nobody rises above or sinks below "adequate," though Joseph Beattie could have helped make some of his scenes a little less muddled if he leaned more into mustache-twirling villainy.

And I should hope by now that I've explained my theory about the importance of the dance scenes to any Jane Austen adaptation. Mansfield Park's ball is no exception. Their line dancing is sometimes stilted and occasionally makes them look downright maniacal, but the filmmakers take advantage of the whirl of motion to catch us up on the dynamics between the characters, with Fanny coming in between but failing to divert the connection between Mary and Edmund. There's also an excellent closing dance at Fanny's wedding that visually highlights the way she finally feels like she belongs to the world of the Bertram rather than merely observing it from the sidelines unable to truly take part in it. 

I still hold out hope that the same year's Persuasion starring Sally Hawkins will be my favorite of the TV adaptations because it stars Sally Hawkins who I love, but I certainly can't complain about the effervescent treat I was given in Mansfield Park. Much like Fanny Price herself, this outing proves that greatness truly can come from anywhere regardless of fortune (or budget).

TL;DR: Mansfield Park is a surprisingly fun romp through the hornier side of Jane Austen's novels.
Rating: 7/10
Word Count: 815
Other Films Based on Mansfield Park
Mansfield Park (Rozema, 1999)
Mansfield Park (MacDonald, 2007)