There have been many adaptations of Jane Austen's books over the years; all six of her novels have been made into films or television dramas with varying degrees of success, from the classics of Persuasion, Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility, to the funny modern version of Emma in the form of Clueless. In this paper I want to show how director Patricia Rozema has made Austen's novel Mansfield Park much more modern, accessible, and, as some claim, radical, by skipping parts of the story that would make the film version drag, and importing events and dialogue that have significance into scenes, often created by Rozema, that are more appealing.
There is always controversy whether a Jane Austen masterpiece can be adequately conveyed through the medium of film. It has been said that ‘seeing a movie or television adaptation of any of Jane Austen's works is like hearing a symphony of Mozart played on a harmonica’ which suggests that the adaptations are cheapened by the filmmakers and sometimes wildly misinterpreted. Andrew Wright says that many adaptations of Austen's work are made to ‘entice the demi-literate or those of presumably short attention span.’ This is the criticism that faced director Patricia Rozema with her film version of Mansfield Park, which states the very start that the film is only loosely based on the film, but also draws inspiration from the early journals and letters of Jane Austen. There are two schools of thought on the adaptation of Jane Austen's novels, whether they are beneficial or not. It is clear that Rozema’s version of the film makes it more accessible to viewers. M. Casey Diana has experimented on Austen adaptations with her class group:
‘She divided her students into two groups; one read Sense and Sensibility first and then saw the Thompson/Lee film, the other saw the movie first and then read the book…the first group had a hard time comprehending (never mind responding on any deeply imaginative level to it), and both groups used the movie as a "gateway" into the book or an explanation afterwards.
The film version certainly gives us a more vivid view of the story, especially in scenes set in Fanny’s Portsmouth home, where we can see the squalor you end up in when you marry for love. The film is also more poignant on the issues of slavery and abuse of human rights. I am referring to the wailing Fanny hears coming from the slave ship, and the sketchbook that she finds with pictures of the slaves that her uncle has in Antigua. I will go into that in more detail later in this paper.
There is some debate whether the film should be called ‘Patricia Rozemas Mansfield Park’, as opposed to Jane Austen's, as Derek Elley points out in his review of the film. He claims Rozema:
‘reinterprets the central character, Fanny Price, as a cross between Austen herself and a tomboyish proto-feminist, throws in some magical realism and gratuitous lesbian frissons to spice up the pot, and too often steps out of its...