The film “Mansfield Park” is taken from one of Jane Austen’s more popular novels, with a few variations offered in the film. I have become a Jane Austen fan through the influence of some of my Book Club members, who profess strong allegiance to Jane.
The movie takes place in the year 1806 in the fictitious setting of Mansfield Park, supposedly in the actual county of Northhamptonshire in central England.
Jane Austen - Wikimedia Commons
Fanny Price is the oldest of nine children whose parents married for love and are constantly in financial straits. When Fanny was ten years old, she was sent from her home on the docks in Portsmouth to live at Mansfield Park, the estate of Sir Thomas Bertram (Harold Pinter), who is married to the sister of Fanny’s mother. Fanny thought she was going for a short visit; in reality, it was a permanent arrangement due to the poverty suffered by her parents and her eight siblings.
Fanny is not received well at Mansfield Park, particularly by Mrs. Norris, her other aunt, and her two cousins, Maria and Julia, who look down on her and tend to treat her like a servant. Her cousin Edmund treats her kindly and they become close friends over time.
Two more characters are introduced. A brother and sister, Henry and Mary Crawford, have rented the parsonage on the Bertram estate grounds as a vacation venue, specifically to meet the Bertrams with the underlying and secret purpose of making a good marriage.
Scene from "Mansfield Park" - Fanny Writing a Note - Wikimedia
Credit: H. M. Brock
Sir Thomas and his eldest son, Tom, are away on business in Antigua where the family has a plantation run by African slaves. Their fortune is dependent on their ownership of slaves who provide cheap labor. Tom returns home first with a fellow companion, and the two fellows propose that the family perform a risqué play entitled “Lovers’ Vows.” When Sir Thomas returns home, he refuses to allow the rehearsals to continue as the participants have taken over his study as their stage.
At this point, Fanny (Frances O’Connor) is now in her late teens and has evolved into a rare beauty who spends time honing her skills as a writer. Henry Crawford has taken note of Fanny despite his flirtatious behavior with young Maria Bertram, who is already betrothed to Rushworth (Hugh Bonneville), a clueless dimwit who just happens to come from wealth. You may not recognize Hugh Bonneville who plays Robert Crawley, the Earl of Grantham, on Downton Abbey, a character far different in looks and personality from the doltish Rushworth. Maria, eager to marry into wealth, continues her masquerade of being in love with Rushworth, and their wedding ceremony takes place at Mansfield Park.
Unfortunately, Fanny’s closest ally Edmund, has taken a liking to Mary Crawford, and has spoken openly to Fanny about his feelings toward Mary, who tries to hide her sadness at this turn of events. Edmund has decided on the profession of clergyman where he would need a capable wife at his side.
Hugh Bonneville - Wikimedia
Sir Thomas informs Fanny that Henry has asked for her hand in marriage and approves highly of the match. Fanny tells her uncle that she cannot marry Henry; she does not relate to him that she loves his son Edmund. Sir Thomas is enraged and tells Fanny that she will have to return to her family in Portsmouth if she does not take his advice to marry Henry. He reminds her that the comforts she has access to at Mansfield Park will no longer be hers when she returns to Portsmouth. Fanny reluctantly leaves Sir Thomas’ home.
Henry visits Fanny in Portsmouth, declaring his love and his wish to marry her. At first, she accepts his proposal, thinking he has changed, but by the next day she realizes that she cannot overlook his flirtations with Maria and cannot trust his declarations of love for herself. Fanny changes her mind and sends Henry away.
Fanny has another visitor at Portsmouth. Her dear friend Edmund has come to tell her that his brother Tom has come down with an illness and is near death. The family would like Fanny to return to take care of Tom; Fanny agrees to return to Mansfield Park with Edmund.
When Edmund and Fanny arrive at Mansfield Park, they learn that Rushworth is away on a business venture. Edmund walks in on Henry and Maria in one of the bedrooms in a compromising situation. The shamed couple leave the estate together, and the scandal becomes known throughout the town.
Scene from "Mansfield Park" - Mary Playing the Harp - Wikimedia
Credit: H. M. Brock
The Bertrams and Mary Crawford come together to devise a solution to downplaying the family scandal. Mary states that her marriage to Edmund and Henry’s marriage to Maria might be a way of bringing Henry and Maria back to acceptance in society. She and Henry might host a gala or two to accomplish this. Fanny poses the issue of the meager salary a clergyman commands, so how could they afford the lavish galas that Mary is proposing. Mary stuns the family by reminding everyone that upon Tom’s death, Edmund will become the heir to the Bertram fortune. Edmund finally sees Mary for the fortune hunter that she is, and rebukes her for taking Tom’s death as a foregone conclusion. Mary then leaves the room, and supposedly the estate also.
Happily Tom recovered from his illness and began working with his father once again. Sir Thomas finally comes to terms with the fact that he can no longer accept slavery as a means of increasing his fortune. He has instead invested in tobacco farming, which has proven to be lucrative.
Is there a way to rekindle the love between Edmund and Fanny? Is it too late since each has been involved with another possible spouse, casting off their longtime friendship? Perhaps Fanny’s lower station in life might prevent her from being accepted by the community as a clergyman’s wife? I cannot bring myself to make this revelation known to the reader.
It is enough to say that Jane Austen writes remarkably well, and is a master at tying up the loose ends. You must find out for yourself.
Harold Pinter - Playwright and Actor - Wikimedia
One more point of information. Harold Pinter, who plays Sir Thomas Bertram in this film, was known more for being a famous playwright in England than an actor before he passed away in 2008. He was married to Antonia Fraser, a successful author in her own right, whose specialty was historical novels, mainly about English royalty, including one entitled “The Wives of Henry VII.”