Saturday 21 June 2014

Mansfield Park DVD – 1983 BBC Version

Mansfield Park 1983 BBC DVD Cover
Recently, I watched the BBC 6 part series of Mansfield Park, made in 1983. The part of Fanny is played by Sylvestra Le Touzel (who also had a role in the 2007 Northanger Abbey) and Nicholas Farrell as Edmund. Anna Massey is Mrs Norris and Samantha Bond is Maria Bertram.

I also recognised Gorden Kaye (Rene from 80s sitcom 'Allo 'Allo!).

Mansfield Park 1999 DVD Cover
Over the years I’ve seen a few adaptations of Mansfield Park. The first one I saw was the 1999 version starring Frances O’Connor and Jonny Lee Miller. It’s been a few years since I’ve seen that version, but I remember feeling that they’d got Fanny’s character all wrong. She was a lot more self-assured than in the book and I felt that she’d make mincemeat of Edmund, whereas in reality Edmund would have looked after her. The slavery aspect is explored more than the book, where the only allusions to slavery I can recall are references to Sir Thomas’ plantation in Antigua, which was presumably run by slave labour, and Fanny actually mentions the slave trade over dinner, in a conversation stopping move. Also, this version was very sexualised, which was unnecessary in my opinion. 

Jonny Lee Miller as Edmund Bertram 1999 Mansfield Park
This version was probably my favoured version though, because Jonny Lee Miller was a fantastic Edmund. For me, he captured the role perfectly, so much so, that I’ve not been able to watch the 2009 version of Emma because how can I watch Edmund pretending to be Mr Knightley?! Jonny Lee Miller actually has a part in the 1983 Mansfield Park too - here he's one of Fanny's younger brothers.

Mansfield Park 2007 DVD Cover
The next version of Mansfield Park that I saw was the 2007adaptation starring Billie Piper. I’ve liked Billie in other things but I really didn’t like her as Fanny Price. She plays her as light hearted and giggly and she looks so wrong. Billie’s hair is very obviously dyed – fine in real life, but not in a period drama! You can’t have an historical heroine whose eyebrows are a different colour to the hair on her head! In addition, her hair is in a tousled style which is all wrong. As the poor relation Fanny would have not been keen to draw attention to herself in such a negative way, I think she’d have looked neat and tidy at all times and there would have been no hoydenish behaviour, although I think Fanny too serious a character to be hoydenish anyway. I think Fanny can be a character that a modern audience can find hard to relate to, since she’s so meek, and this is why her character is changed – but once she’s no longer meek her clear-sightedness and strength of character in refusing Henry Crawford is no longer remarkable.

I was ready to accept that there wasn’t a version of Mansfield Park out there that was true to the book when I was given the recommendation on Twitter by @AusteninBoston to try this 1983 version, which he told me was much truer to the book. I got a copy and used it to distract me over a few ironing sessions and found that he was right – this version is much truer to the book than the other versions I’d seen.  

Since this is a 1980s drama you can’t expect it to look as pretty as a newer one, and it doesn’t, but the production is pretty good. Some older productions look like they are being filmed in studios but you don’t get this impression here, it looks very natural.  I found the background woodwind music a bit distracting at first but either it stopped or I got used to it because I only really noticed it in the first episode. The story is true to Austen’s Mansfield Park, although some things are lost in the translation, as they would be with any adaptation.

There were some things that really stood out for me with this version. The first is Samantha Bond who was absolutely fantastic as the headstrong, catty Maria. Mrs Norris was toned down here so if you’d not read the book you wouldn’t have full hatred for her, but you wouldn’t like her. Anna Massey plays Mrs Norris here and gives a wonderful performance.

Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken 1984 Book cover
A while ago I read Mansfield Revisited by Joan Aiken which has a very sympathetic view of the Crawfords, particularly Mary Crawford, and having seen this I wonder if watching this version had influenced her view of Mary, even the physical description is the same. (As an aside, I have trouble with Mary Crawford as a character – her practical, unfeeling views match so well with our modern views, particularly in the respect of dealing with the elopement. I want to dislike her for being heartless, but instead I find myself agreeing with her views on a practical level, and admiring her candidness!)

In addition, Henry Crawford's situation with Maria is given a less blameworthy appearance in this, which also tied in with the happenings of Mansfield Revisited.

For me, some things didn't come across so well. Obviously some things you lose when adapting for screen, such as narrative language use, and these were included where they could be, but some of the main themes of the book Mansfield Park were not evident. For example, I thought a huge theme of Mansfield Park was Nature v. Nurture, which doesn't come across at all. Fanny's mother doesn't come across as at all similar to Lady Bertram in nature, although I accept that this might be hard to convey. I am not sure what I thought about Lady Bertram, she seemed not languid, but simple! There was recognition that Sir Thomas' family weren't brought up as well as they should have been, which was good to see.

The main downside of this adaptation for me was the portrayal of Fanny. Although she’s much closer to the book I think she was overacted. She’s just too gauche. Also, neither Fanny nor Edmund are very lovable, they are both humorless. I know they aren’t exactly bursting with humour in the book but other good qualities are conveyed which I didn’t quite get from this, they’re both a bit priggish. So although this version wasn’t perfect, and I think there is a gap for a really definitive version of Mansfield Park, this one is far better than the other versions out there. If you are looking for an adaptation of Mansfield Park to watch I’d recommend that you make it this one.


  1. So far, this is the best version of MP on film for me as it came closest to accurately portraying the book and Fanny herself. Anna Massey is marvelous as Aunt Norris and while there are some awkward bits due to the made for TV budget at that time, it's the only one that manages to do justice to the original work.

    I also find it amusing that Samantha Bond and Bernard Hepton(who play father and daughter here) reunite several years later for another Austen adaptation-Emma starring Kate Beckinsale,where she plays Mrs. Weston and he is Mr. Woodhouse. Funny how certain actors just can't escape an Austen connection!

    1. I completely agree, definitely the version that is closest to the book! I hadn't put two and two together, but as soon as you mentioned those actors appearing in the Kate Beckinsale Emma I could immediately picture them in my mind! I thought Sir Thomas looked familiar when I saw him, but I forgot to look him up on IMDB, and I recognised Samantha Bond from other things, so I didn't twig. It's funny how these same actors keep turning up again and again.

  2. Can you believe I have all three DVDs but have yet to watch them! I also bought Mansfield revisited two days ago! I think I'm going to have a fun summer thanks for the heads up Ceri think I will start with this one first!

    1. I hope you enjoy it Tamara, let me know what you think!


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