Tuesday, July 31, 2012
Below is a gallery from the Golden Globe winning and Oscar nominated drama, "ATONEMENT". Based upon Ian McEwan's novel, the film starred James McAvoy, Keira Knightley and Saoirse Ronan; and was directed by Joe Wright:
"ATONEMENT" (2007) Photo Gallery
Sunday, July 29, 2012
"THE AVIATOR" (2004) Review
There have been many films, television episodes and documentaries that either featured or were about aviation pioneer and movie producer Howard Hughes. But Martin Scorsese's 2004 biopic, "THE AVIATOR", was the first that featured a large-scale production about his life.
Set twenty years between 1927 and 1947, "THE AVIATOR" centered on Hughes' life from the late 1920s to 1947 during the time he became a successful film producer and an aviation magnate, while simultaneously growing more unstable due to severe obsessive-compulsive disorder. The movie opened with the Houston-born millionaire living in California and producing his World War I opus, "HELL'S ANGELS". He hires Noah Dietrich to run his Texas operation, the Hughes Tool Company, while he becomes increasingly obsessed with finishing the movie.
"THE AVIATOR" not only covered Hughes' production of "HELL'S ANGELS" in the 1920s; it also covered his life during the next fifteen to twenty years. The 1930s featured his romance with actress Katherine Hepburn and his aviation achievements in the 1930s, including his purchase of Transcontinental and Western Air (TWA). However, the second half of the movie covers the years 1941-47, which featured his relationships with Ava Gardner and Faith Domergue, his obsession with construction his military flying ship the Hercules (Spruce Goose), his near-fatal crash in the XF-11 reconnaissance plane, his legal and financial problems that led to conflicts with both Pan Am chairman Juan Trippe and Maine Senator Owen Brewster, and most importantly his increasingly inability to deal with his obsessive-compulsive disorder.
I have never maintained a strong interest in Howard Hughes before I saw "THE AVIATOR". One, his politics have always repelled me. And two, most productions tend to portray Hughes from an extreme point-of-view, with the exception of Jason Robards' portrayal of him in the 1980 movie, "MELVIN AND HOWARD", and Terry O'Quinn's more rational portrayal in 1991's "THE ROCKETEER". "THE AVIATOR" seemed to be another exception to the rule. With Hughes as the main character, director Martin Scorsese and screenwriter Josh Logan managed to delve into the millionaire to create a portrait of a admittedly fascinating and complex man. Foreknowledge of Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder allowed Scorcese, Logan and DiCaprio to approach the subject, instead of dismissing it as a sign of the millionaire's growing insanity. Both Scorsese and Logan seemed willing to explore nearly all aspects of Hughes' personality - both good and bad - with the exception of one area. I noticed that both director and screenwriter had failed to touch upon the man's racism. With the exception of one brief scene in which Hughes briefly pondered on any alleged sins of a fictional columnist named Roland Sweet, the movie never really hinted, let alone explored this darker aspect of Hughes' personality. I have to applaud both Scorsese and Logan for the manner in which they ended the film."THE AVIATOR" could have easily ended on a triumphant note, following Hughes' defeat of both Juan Trippe and Senator Owen Brewster. Instead, the movie ended with Hughes' obsessive-compulsive disorder slipping out of control, hinting the descent that he would experience over the next three decades.
Many recent biopics tend to portray the lives and experiences of its subjects via flashbacks. Why? I do not know. This method is no longer revolutionary or even original. Yet, many filmmakers still utilize flashbacks in biopics as if it is something new. Thankfully, Scorsese and Logan tossed the use of flashbacks in the wind and decided to tell Hughes' story in a linear narrative. And I say, thank God, because flashbacks are becoming a bore. However, Scorsese and cinematographer Robert Richardson, with the help of Legend Films, did something unique for the film's look. Since"THE AVIATOR" was set during Hughes' first twenty years in Hollywood, the pair decided to utilize the Multicolorprocess (in which a film appeared in shades of red and cyan blue) for the film's first 50 minutes, set between 1927 and 1935. This color process was available during this period. Hollywood began using Three-strip Technicolor after 1935. And to emulate this, Scorsese, Richardson and Legend Films tried to re-create this look for the scenes set after 1935. And I must say that I really enjoyed what they did. Apparently, so did the American Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Richardson won a Best Cinematography Oscar for his work.
"THE AVIATOR" earned ten (10) more Academy Award nominations; including including Best Picture, Best Director for Scorsese, Best Original Screenplay for Logan, Best Actor for Leonardo DiCaprio, Best Supporting Actor for Alan Alda, Best Supporting Actress for Cate Blanchett, Best Film Editing for Thelma Schoonmaker, Best Costume Design for Sandy Powell, and Best Art Direction for Robert Guerra, Claude Paré and Luca Tranchino. Along with Richardson, Blanchett, Schoonmaker, Guerra, Paré and Luca all won. I would have been even more happy if Scorsese, DiCaprio and Logan had also won. But we cannot always get what we want. I realize that "THE AVIATOR" is not the most original biopic ever made. But there is so much about the film's style, content and the acting that I enjoyed that it has become one of my favorite biopics, anyway. I was especially impressed by Schoonmaker's editing in the sequence featuring Hughes' crash of the experimental XF-11 in a Beverly Hills neighborhood, Sandy Powell's beautiful costumes that covered three decades in Hughes' life and the rich and gorgeous art designs from the team of Guerra, Paré and Tranchino; who did a superb job of re-creating Southern California between 1927 and 1947.
But no matter how beautiful a movie looked, it is nothing without a first-rate script and an excellent cast. I have already commented on Josh Logan's screenplay. I might as well do the same about the cast of "THE AVIATOR". The movie featured solid performances from the likes of John C. Reilly as Noah Dietrich, Hughes' right-hand man; Ian Holm as Hughes' minion Professor Fitz; Matt Ross as another one of Hughes' right-hand men, Glen "Odie" Odekirk; and Kelli Garner as future RKO starlet Faith Domergue. Danny Huston was stalwart, but not particularly memorable as TWA executive, Jack Frye. Jude Law gave an entertaining, yet slightly over-the-top cameo as Hollywood legend Errol Flynn. Adam Scott also tickled my funny bone, thanks to his amusing performance as Hughes' publicist Johnny Meyer. And Gwen Stefani gave a surprisingly good performance as another film legend, Jean Harlow.
As I had stated before, Cate Blanchett won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her portrayal of Hollywood icon, Katherine Hepburn. At first, I had feared that Blanchett's performance would turn out to be nothing more than mimicry of Hepburn's well-known traits. But Blanchett did a superb job of portraying Hepburn as a full-blooded character and stopped short of portraying the other actress as a cliche. I could also say the same for Kate Beckinsale, who gave a more subtle performance as another Hollywood legend, Ava Gardner. At first, Beckinsale's portrayal of Gardner's sexuality threatened to seem like a cliche. But the actress managed to portray Gardner as a human being . . . especially in two scenes that featured the latter's anger at Hughes' possessive behavior and her successful attempt at drawing the aviator out of his shell, following Congress' harassment. Alan Alda was superb as the manipulative Maine senator, Owen Brewster, who harassed and prosecuted Hughes on behalf of Pan Am and Juan Trippe. He truly deserved an Oscar nomination for portraying one of the most subtle villains I have ever seen on film. And Alec Baldwin gave a wonderfully sly and subtle performance as the Pan Am founder and Hughes' business rival.
But the man of the hour who carried a 169 minutes film on his back turned out to be the movie's leading man, Leonardo DiCaprio. The actor, who was twenty-nine to thirty years old at the time, did a superb job of re-capturing nearly every aspect of Howard Hughes' personality. More importantly, his acting skills enabled him to convey Hughes' age over a period of twenty years - from 22 to 42. What I really admired about DiCaprio was his ability to maintain control of a performance about a man who was gradual losing control, thanks to his medical condition. I suspect that portraying a man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, over a period of two decades must have been quite a task for DiCaprio. But he stepped up to the batter's plate and in the end, gave one of the best performances of his career.
For me, it seemed a pity that "THE AVIATOR" had failed to cap the Best Picture prize for 2004. Mind you, it is not one of the most original biographical dramas I have ever seen. Then again, I cannot recall a biographical movie that struck me as unusual. Or it could be that the Academy has associated Martin Scorsese with crime dramas about the Mob. In the end, it does not matter. Even after nearly eight years, "THE AVIATOR", still continues to dazzle me. Martin Scorsese did a superb job in creating one of the best biographical films I have seen in the past two to three decades.
Wednesday, July 25, 2012
"STAR WARS: Episode II - ATTACK OF THE CLONES"
Notes and Observations
The following is a list of minor notes and observations that came to me, during my recent viewing of “Episode II: Attack of the Clones”. I hope that you enjoy them:
*It is interesting that the story starts out with Coruscant – the seat of the Republic’s power – covered in a shroud of fog. Was this an allegory of the Republic’s impending doom? Or a sign of hidden secrets within the seats of power?
*Why did the Jedi believe they would have to protect the Republic in a military action, if the Separatists broke away? It seems as if the Republic and the Jedi were prepared to consider using military force to draw the Separatists back into the Republic, against their will.
*I noticed that both Mace and Ki-Adi had the same condescending attitude that the entire Council had in TPM, when explaining to Padme that Dooku could never be behind her assassination attempt.
*Why was it so important to Obi-Wan that he and Anakin follow the Council’s instructions regarding Padme, to the letter?
*I wonder if Jango would have killed Zam if she had succeeded in killing Padme.
*Are dreams usually dismissed by the Jedi in such a cavalier fashion?
*No wonder the Jedi and senators like Bail Organa had never formed a strong bond by ROTS, if Obi-Wan’s general attitude toward all politicians (which the Order shares, I suspect) is anything to go by.
*The more I look at Anakin and Obi-Wan’s interactions in AOTC, the more I realize how unsuited they were for a master/padawan relationship. Anakin would have been better off being trained by someone more suited to deal with his emotional and non-conformist personality. However, I see nothing wrong with Anakin and Obi-Wan forming a strong friendship, once Anakin becomes a Jedi Knight.
*I wonder if Anakin’s feelings about Palpatine would have remained the same if Obi-Wan had been less strident in his teaching.
*How interesting. Obi-Wan ended up following Anakin’s suggested mandate regarding Padme’s would-be assassin, after all.
*The Coruscant chase sequence is another major favorite with me. Note the slightly chubby woman with Ahmed Best and a silver-blond woman with too much eye make-up, both giving Anakin lust-filled glances in the nightclub scene. Come to think of it, I believe I had spotted two other women doing the same.
*”Until caught this killer is, our judgement she must respect.” – Why did Yoda believe that Padme MUST accept the Jedi’s decision that she return to Naboo? I realize that he is concerned for her safety. But why would he assume that she had no choice but to accept the Council’s decision on where she should be? At least Mace seemed to realize that Padme would obey if Palpatine, as the Supreme Chancellor, had given the order.
*When discussing his abilities with Palpatine, Anakin is polite and practically modest. Yet, whenever he is around Obi-Wan or discussing the latter, he becomes arrogant about his abilities and bitter at what he perceives as Obi-Wan’s inability to recognize them.
*”Anakin . . . don’t try to grow up too fast.” – It is ironic that Padme would say this to Anakin, considering that she has been trying to do this very thing for most of her life.
*Although Captain Typho’s assumption on the safety of Padme’s arrival on Coruscant proved to be false, his fear that she might do something foolish or rash proved to be very accurate.
*”If an item does not appear in our records, it does not exist.” – ah, another prime example of the Jedi’s arrogant belief in themselves. Who would have thought it would come from the Archives’ librarian?
*Anakin might be pretty close to the truth in the definition of love he had given to Padme.
*Despite the sweet and charming overtones of the younglings scene, it still has a sinister sense of the foreboding.
*It is interesting how ALL of the Separatists are tainted with the same brush as the Trade Federation and the Banking Union, because they had sought the latter for help. Guilt by association.
*When Sio Biddle had asked Anakin a question about Padme’s safety, Padme rudely interrupts and brushes off Anakin. Now, why did she do that? And in such a rude manner?
*It’s interesting how the imagery and symbolism on Kamino seemed to be of the fertile kind.
*I just realized that if Palpatine had eventually accused the Jedi of creating the Clone Army, he would have been correct. Especially since Master Sifo-Dyas really did order the creation of the clones for the Republic.
*For someone with hardly any experience in romance, Anakin managed to do a good job in winning over Padme without resorting to smooth lines and a cocky manner.
*Of course . . . Padme seemed to be a bit of a flirt, herself. She certainly knows how to use her voice effectively.
*In an article on Anakin and Padme’s relationship, I read a segment from a poem or story written hundreds of years ago that was compared to Anakin’s fireside speech. What amazed me was how similar Anakin’s speech was to what is considered courtly love.
*I noticed that once Padme had rejected Anakin’s offer of love, he turned away from her. And she, in turn, began to pursue him in a very subtle manner.
*It is ironic that Anakin believes that he did not have a choice in leaving Naboo to help his mother. In reality, he did have a choice . . . and he exercised it. Like the other characters around him, Anakin has become adept at deluding himself.
*I see that Obi-Wan had made the first move in his fight with Jango Fett on Kamino. Not only did it result in him nearly falling over a ledge, it was the movie’s first sign of the “good guys” acting as the aggressors.
*”Those Tusken Raiders. They may walk like men, but they’re nothing more than vicious, mindless monsters.” – Judging from Cliegg Lars’ words, I cannot help but wonder if Anakin’s murder of the Tusken Raiders was something rare on Tatooine. Would Anakin’s actions have been condoned by Tatooine’s moisture farmers? Cliegg’s words seemed to have a xenophobic ring to them.
*When Padme told Anakin that it was okay to be angry, she was right. It was okay. It would have been a lot unhealthier for Anakin to pretend otherwise. But where Anakin went wrong was that he had allowed his anger to overwhelm him . . . which led to his murder of the Tuskens.
*Anakin’s claim that he would even learn to stop people from dying seemed to foreshadow his opera conversation with Palpatine in ROTS.
*If Jar-Jar had not proposed that Palpatine should be given emergency powers, I wonder who would have made the proposition? Bail Organa had been certain that the Senate would never grant such powers to the Chancellor or authorize a clone army. Boy, was he wrong!
*Did Obi-Wan’s own prejudices and beliefs in the Jedi’s infallibility led him to easily dismiss Dooku’s claim that a Sith Lord had control over the Senate?
*I think that Padme’s arrogant belief in her diplomatic skills were in overdrive, when she and Anakin learned about Obi-Wan’s predicament. I can see why Typho had been worried that she would do something rash.
*It seems interesting that Anakin was the only one who had managed to control the attacking him in the Geonosis area, without resorting to brute force. Was this a metaphor of his potential to control (but not suppress) the animus within himself? A potential that he had failed to attain until the end of his life?
*Obi-Wan, on the other hand, succeeded in dealing with his animal attacker with brute force . . . just as he had succeeded with Maul and Anakin. Was this a foreshadow of his advocacy of Luke using violence to deal with Vader/Anakin in the Original Trilogy?
*I suspect that Jango’s success in killing Jedi Master Coleman Trebor had gone to his head, when he had decided to attack Mace. Just as many of the Jedi have discovered in this movie and will discover in ROTS, Jango will learn that it does not pay to be the aggressor.
*I did not realize that the Republic and the Jedi had acquired both troops and weapons from the Kaminoans.
*It is interesting that Obi-Wan’s threat of expulsion from the Jedi Order did not faze Anakin one bit, in his concern for the fallen Padme. Either the Jedi Order was never that important enough to Anakin . . . or it was too important to Obi-Wan. Or perhaps it was both.
*Both Anakin and Obi-Wan made the mistake of aggressively moving against Dooku, first. And both had failed. Again, this seemed to be another example of the Jedi’s acceptance of using aggression in this movie.
*Anakin vs. Dooku – it’s ironic that this was the first duel between Palpatine’s present and future apprentices.
*Dooku, who had wisely allowed both Obi-Wan and Anakin to be the aggressors, became the aggressor, himself, in his duel against Yoda. He had barely managed to escape with his life.
*The failure of aggression committed by our heroes and by villains like Dooku and Jango seemed to be the theme for this movie . . . and perhaps the Prequel Trilogy overall. This theme seems especially true for the Jedi, who had agreed to use the clone troopers against the Separatists. The same clone troopers that will become the tools of their destruction. Irony at its most tragic.
*Looking back on AOTC, it strikes me as being a very nourish story, despite the some of the usual STAR WARS elements. Perhaps that is why so many people have difficulty in accepting it. Film noir can be highly regarded – or not. But people rarely understand it, or bother to watch it in the movie theaters.
Monday, July 23, 2012
Here is a gallery of photos from the first movie in the "PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN" trilogy - "Curse of the Black Pearl":
"PIRATES OF THE CARIBBEAN: CURSE OF THE BLACK PEARL" (2003) Photo Gallery
Thursday, July 19, 2012
SUMMARY: Civil War nurse Charlotte Evans uncovers a mystery at a Mississippi plantation during the middle of the war.
FEEDBACK: Be my guest. But please, be kind.
Late July 1863
"Here we are," Alice commented. "Green Willows." She leaned outside the carriage for a better glimpse.
I glanced at the black iron gateway that arched over the driveway. The carved sign that hung from it read GREEN WILLOWS. I struggled to maintain my disappointment. Being forced to give up a comfortable and friendly house in Vicksburg, I did not look forward to staying at some impoverished plantation.
Alice continued, "Charlotte, do you think it will be one of those large mansions? You know, like the ones we've seen along the river." I noticed how her pale blue eyes shined with anticipation. Dear Alice. Over two years of war, sickness and death had not changed her sweet nature one whit.
Before I could answer her question, Miriam replied dourly, "Probably another farmhouse. With the exception of the Bloom home in Vicksburg, we have been staying at nothing but farmhouses.” Her thin, pale face wrinkled with distaste.
Like me, Miriam Rosen was a pessimistic New Englander from Massachusetts and did not look forward to setting up the new hospital. After the Confederate general, John Pemberton, had surrendered Vicksburg to Ulysses Grant, my three fellow nurses and I had stayed in the home of one of the city's residents. Most of the townspeople resented the Union presence and did not want four Yankee nurses in their homes. Especially since two of them happened to be colored women – an ex-slave named Alma and myself. Fortunately, Mrs. Emmeline Bloom had been gracious enough to allow us to stay in her home. Because of damp heat of the Mississippi Valley summer and Joseph Johnston's Rebel troops, the number of sick and injured Union troops had risen and there was no more space in Vicksburg. The Sanitary Commission had ordered one of the surgeons, Doctor Henson to set up a temporary field hospital at some plantation south of the city. Miriam, Alma, myself and our own Ohio belle, Alice Campbell, had been ordered by our employers – the United States Sanitary Commission – to accompany him.
As we rode along the tree-lined driveway, I saw that the estate was aptly named. Willow trees and oaks filled with Spanish moss stood everywhere. They drooped gracefully about us, forming a curtain that hid the house from our view ahead. Alice gasped with pleasure as the big house - or should I say mansion - appeared before our eyes. It turned out to be a two-story affair built from whitewashed wood. Square-shaped white pillars stretched across the two galleries around the mansion and the window shutters on both floors were faded green. Although the house looked as if it could use a new coat of paint, I could tell from Alice’s expression that it was the plantation house of her dreams.
I glanced up at a second-floor. A delicate, light-brown face loomed at a window and glanced straight at me. For some unexplainable reason, I shivered. It was the eyes. They looked exactly like mine. That moment of fear soon disappeared as our carriage approached the front of the mansion. A tall man with dark hair and black eyes stood on the veranda steps. I was surprised to notice how young and good-looking he was, despite his thin features. One would expect a man of his age serving the military. Then I noticed that he leaned on the walking cane in his right hand. "May I help you sir?" he asked Major Henson.
The major dismounted from his horse and approached the steps. "Major Emmanuel Henson, at your service, sir. I'm with the U.S. Army Medical Corps."
The man returned the greeting with a graceful bow. "Major Richard Scott, formerly of the 6th Mississippi Brigade." He looked down at his stiff leg. "I had been injured during the second assault at Vicksburg."
Major Henson explained the reason behind our appearance at Green Willows. "Behind us is a company of the 6th Illinois Calvary. I hope our presence here will not inconvenience you or your family."
"It does not matter," Major Scott replied coolly. "I doubt I have any say in the matter." Oh dear. That was all we needed - another hostile Rebel.
Dismissing Scott's sharp remark, Major Henson introduced us as we descended from the carriage. After I stepped down, I caught Major Scott gazing upon me with a curious manner. There was not a trace of hostility or resentment in his dark eyes. So why did he find my presence disturbing? After all, I was not the only colored woman in the group. I decided to dismiss him from my mind, as we followed the major inside the house.
* * * *
The patients who traveled in wagons behind us were scattered across the front yard. One of the remaining slaves in the major's household, a handsome-looking woman named Maum Janey, escorted us to our rooms. Major Henson and another Army doctor named Lieutenant William Anders were assigned to one room. Miriam and Alice shared another, while Alma and I were led to a large room next door. I saw that Maum Janey managed to keep the color and gender lines intact.
Everyone settled down to setting up the hospital. With the help of some men from the 6th Illinois, we managed to set up makeshift tents for the patients and a large one to serve as the operation room for the doctors and nurses. By the end of the afternoon, Major Scott surprised with invitations for the nurses and doctors to join his family for supper. Including Alma and myself. After I had changed into one the only decent outfits I possessed on hand – a Garibaldi white blouse and a deep green wide skirt, I decided to take a small tour of the house. Unfortunately, most of the furnishings were gone, so I did not have much to see. Green Willows must have sustained an earlier visit by the Union troops.
Admiring an attractive whatnot set in a corner of the East Parlor, I gasped as my eyes fell upon a small miniature painting on the second shelf. It was a picture of a young woman with light brown skin and her arms around a white boy with dark eyes. The young woman looked very familiar. She happened to be the same one whose face I had spotted from one of the windows, this morning. It was amazing. The little boy bore a strong resemblance to Major Scott. Which meant that the miniature may have been painted at least twenty years ago. The woman must be well preserved for her age.
Fifteen minutes later, we all sat around a thick, handsomely carved table, inside the sparsely furnished dining room. Major Scott was the only member of the family who joined us for supper. Maum Janey had informed us he was a widower with a six-year old son and a mother who was still alive, but they were not present. His son had already eaten supper. And Mrs. Scott was not inclined to dine with Yankees.
Major Scott engaged in light conversation with Major Hanson, until he faced me. "Tell me Miss Evans,” he said, taking me by surprise, “have you any kin from around here?" I sat between Lieutenant Anders and Alice, who sat at the Mississippian's right. Wary of the major's apparent friendliness, I revealed that my mother had relatives who lived in New Orleans. My grandmother, a member of the Fontenot family, had married met and married a free colored merchant from Boston. "Just down the river, I see. I have an aunt who lives down there. She married a Creole fellow. Are your mother's cousins free persons of color or slaves?"
Now, why did he want to know? Was he attempting to deduce whether I was a fugitive slave or not? I frankly thought it was none of his business and almost told him so, but I held my tongue. "They are free," I answered coolly.
He apologized gracefully. "I did not mean to pry into your past. You see, one of my nursing mammies hailed from Nawlins. Her name was Marie."
I smiled politely. So that was her name. Yet, despite my curiosity, I did not want to be drawn into some conversation about his slaves. What was he going to discuss next? The glorious Southern way of life and how Negroes were suited to it? But the major persisted. "The reason I brought up Marie is that you strongly resemble her. Especially around the eyes. Those Egyptian eyes, my Aunt Cordelia used to say. Did you inherit your features from your mother?"
I now knew the reason behind his curiosity and relaxed. "No Major Scott. From my father's mother."
He turned to face Miriam, when the memory of that brown face at the window suddenly came back to me. "Pardon me, Major Scott, but is this Marie nursemaid to your daughter?"
"Oh no, Miss Evans. Maum Janey now takes care of Brett. Marie had died many years ago. When I was ten." I nearly jolted out of my seat from the revelation. Major Scott sighed ruefully. "Strange. I even remembered the exact date she died. April 9, 1842. One of the saddest days of my life."
I choked on the water I was sipping when he said those words. Marie died on the very day I had been born.
End of Chapter One
Monday, July 16, 2012
"MANSFIELD PARK" (1983) Review
Long before Patricia Rozema wrote and directed her 1999 adaptation of "Mansfield Park", Jane Austen’s 1814 novel, the BBC aired its own adaptation some sixteen years earlier. This one came in the form of a six-part miniseries and is regarded by many Austen fans as the definitive screen version of the novel.
"MANSFIELD PARK" told the story of Fanny Price, the oldest daughter of a former Royal Navy officer, who is sent by her parents to live with her wealthy aunt and uncle-in-law, Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram, at their estate called Mansfield Park, during the early 19th century. Viewed as socially inferior by her new family, Fanny is treated as half-relative/half-servant by the Bertrams. Only Edmund, the family’s second son, treats her with great kindness and love. Because of Edmund’s behavior, Fanny finds herself in love with him by the age of eighteen. But her life and the Bertrams’ lives soon encounter a force of nature in the arrival of Henry and Mary Crawford, a pair of vivacious siblings that are related to the local vicar’s wife. Henry ends up stirring excitement and romantic interest within the breasts of the two Bertram sisters – Maria and Julia. And much to Fanny’s dismay, Edmund forms a romantic attachment to the alluring Mary.
In compare to the 1999 and the ITV 2007 movies, this 1983 miniseries is a more faithful adaptation of Austen’s novel. Considering its six episodes, I do not find this surprising. Literary fans tend to be more impressed by cinematic adaptations that are very faithful to its source. However, ”MANSFIELD PARK” is not a completely faithful adaptation. Screenwriter Ken Taylor completely ignored Fanny’s questions regarding Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner. Whereas Austen’s novel and the 2007 movie briefly touched upon the subject, writer/director Patricia Rozema literally confronted it. Only the miniseries ignored the topic, altogether. Judging from the fans’ reaction to this deviation from Austen’s novel, I suspect that many of them are willing to pretend that the subject of slavery was never broached in the miniseries.
Did I enjoy ”MANSFIELD PARK”? Well . . . the miniseries had its moments. It allowed me to become more aware of the plot details in Austen’s 1814 novel than the other adaptations did. I enjoyed the scene featuring the Bertrams’ introduction to the Crawford siblings. I enjoyed the ball held in Fanny’s honor in Episode Four. It struck me as very elegant and entertaining. I also enjoyed the constant flirtation and verbal duels between Edmund and Mary, despite my dislike of the former character. And much to my surprise, I really enjoyed the sequence featuring Fanny’s visit to her family in Portsmouth. For once, the miniseries’ pacing seemed well paced and I enjoyed the details and production designs in the setting for this sequence. One of the actors portraying Fanny’s younger brothers turned out to be a young Jonny Lee Miller, who later portrayed Edmund in the 1999 production.
But the best aspect of ”MANSFIELD PARK” turned out to be a handful of first-rate performances and Ian Adley’s costume designs. I usually do not harbor much of a high opinion of the costumes designs seen in other Jane Austen’s adaptations from the 1970s and 80s. But I cannot deny that I found Adley’s costumes not only colorful, but very elegant. I am not surprised that he earned a BAFTA TV Award nomination for Best Costume Design.
As I had stated earlier, I was also impressed by a handful of performances featured in the miniseries. One came from veteran actress Anna Massey, who superbly portrayed one of Fanny Price’s aunts, the noxious Mrs. Norris. Depended upon her sister and brother-in-law for their support, Massey’s Mrs. Norris walked a fine line between toad-eating behavior toward Sir Thomas and Lady Bertram and her malicious tyranny toward Fanny. Samantha Bond gave a subtle and complex portrayal of the oldest Bertram daughter, Maria. Bond conveyed not only the shallow and selfish aspects of Maria’s personality, but also the dilemma that her willingness to become the wife of the disappointing Mr. Rushworth put her in. I also found myself impressed by Bernard Hepton’s performance as Sir Thomas Bertarm, owner of Mansfield Park and patriarch of the Bertram family. Hepton’s Sir Thomas came off as superficially generous, intelligent and morally absolute. He seemed every inch of the ideal English landowner and gentleman. Yet, Hepton also conveyed the corruption that lurked underneath Sir Thomas’ façade – namely the man who seemed more concern with the financial suitability of his children’s spouses than any emotional regard. Hepton also revealed with great subtlety, the baronet’s egomania and tyranny in scenes that featured the character’s efforts to coerce Fanny into accepting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal.
I will be brutally honest. I have never been a fan of the Edmund Bertram character. Despite his kindness to Fanny and occasional wit, he strikes me as too self-righteous and very hypocritical. Whenever I think of that scene in which Edmund rejected Mary Crawford, it still makes my blood boil. But his characterization worked, due to Nicholas Farrell’s performance. He really did an excellent job in conveying all aspects of Edmund’s personality, both the good and the bad. Despite my negative feelings regarding Edmund’s personality, Farrell made him seem very interesting. But ”MANSFIELD PARK” would have never been bearable to me without Jackie Smith-Wood’s sparkling portrayal of one of Jane Austen’s most memorable characters, Mary Crawford. Like Fanny Price, many fans have either loved or disliked this character. Count me as among the former. I absolutely adored Mary – especially in the hands of the talented Ms. Smith-Wood. With great skill, the actress conveyed all aspects of Mary’s personality – her barbed sense of humor, dislike of the clergy, her talent for manipulation, her moral ambiguity, her charm, her wit, her great warmth and generosity. I suspect that the main reason I like Mary so much is that as an early 21st century woman, I find it easy to relate to her way of thinking. Smith-Wood managed to convey the modern sensibilities of Mary’s personality, while still portraying the character as a woman of the early 19th century.
Unfortunately, the bad tends to go hand-in-hand with the good in many movie and television productions. And there are aspects of ”MANSFIELD PARK” that left a bad taste in my mouth – including a few performances. One performance I did not particularly care for was Angela Pleasence’s portrayal of Fanny’s other aunt, the languid Lady Bertram. I am aware that Ms. Pleasence possesses a rather high voice. But I noticed that she exaggerated it for her portrayal of the childish and self-involved Lady Bertram. I wish she had not done this, for I found this exaggerated voice very annoying. And now that I think about it, I realized that Pleasence’s Lady Bertram hardly did a thing in the miniseries that allowed the plot to move forward, except use her selfishness to protect Fanny from Mrs. Norris’ spite . . . sometimes. But I cannot blame the actress. Lady Bertram is a role that has never impressed me. I have yet to find an actress who has ever done anything with the role. I truly believe that producer Betty Billingale and director David Giles selected the wrong actor to portray the charming Lothario, Henry Crawford. Robert Burbage seemed like an affable presence and he wore the costumes designed by Ian Adley very well. But his portrayal of Henry seemed wanting. I will go further and state that I found his performance by-the numbers and his acting skills rather mechanical. Burbage’s Henry did not strike me as the attractive and sexy man who managed to flutter the hearts of the Bertram sisters. Instead, I felt as if I had been watching an earnest schoolboy trying . . . and failing to behave like a rakish seducer.
Finally, I come to Sylvestra Le Touzel’s performance as the miniseries’ leading character, Fanny Price. I am not a fan of the Fanny Price character. Yes, I admire her willingness to stick to her conviction in rejecting Henry Crawford’s marriage proposal in the face of Sir Thomas’ attempts to coerce her. But Fanny also strikes me as being priggish, passive-aggressive, illusional (to a certain extent) and worst of all, hypocritical. I also dislike Edmund Bertram, but I was impressed by Nicholas Farrell’s portrayal of the character. On the other hand, I WAS NOT impressed by Le Touzel’s performance. I realize that she had portrayed a socially awkward and introverted character. But I have seen other actors and actresses portray similar characters with a lot more skill. Le Touzel’s performance struck me as wooden, mannered and at times, slightly hammy. Hell, she made Burbage’s performance seem positively fluid. Le Touzel eventually became a first-rate actress. I saw her very funny performance in 2007’s ”NORTHANGER ABBEY”. But I wish that Billingale and Giles had cast someone with a lot more skill to portray Fanny, twenty-eight years ago.
I find it odd that screenwriter Kenneth Taylor took it upon himself to be as faithful as possible to Austen’s novel, with his deletion of Sir Thomas’ role as a slaveowner being the only exception. However, he had failed to change some aspects of the novel that I consider to be very flawed. Taylor never allowed Fanny and Edmund to become self-aware of their personal failings. Edmund managed to self-flagellate himself for becoming emotionally involved with Mary. But I do not consider that much of a failing. Because of the pair’s failure to become self-aware of their failings, I believe they lacked any real character development. Taylor’s script could have assumed a third voice and criticized or mocked Fanny and Edmund’s lack of development. But it did not. The sequence featuring the ”Lover’s Vows” play dragged nearly all of Episode Three. By the time Sir Thomas had returned to Mansfield Park, I nearly fast asleep, thanks to the episode’s slow pacing. In fact, Giles and Taylor’s efforts to make ”MANSFIELD PARK” faithful to the novel nearly grounded the miniseries to a halt on several occasions, almost making the entire miniseries rather dull.
More than anything, I had a problem with the miniseries’ finale. One, I never understood Edmund’s decision to reject Mary Crawford as his fiancée. Although Mary had condemned her brother and Maria Bertram Rushworth’s affair and elopement as folly, she had a plan to save the honors of both the Bertram and Crawford families. She had suggested that they convince Henry and Maria to marry following the latter’s divorce from Mr. Rushworth; and have both families stand behind the couple to save face. This plan struck me as very similar to Fitzwilliam Darcy’s plan regarding Lydia Bennet and George Wickham in ”Pride and Prejudice”. Why did Austen condone Mr. Darcy’s actions regarding Lydia and Wickham in one novel and condemn Mary Crawford for harboring similar plans in this story? Did Taylor, Giles or Willingale even notice the similarities between Mr. Darcy’s actions and Mary’s plans and see the hypocrisy? Apparently not. My last problem centered on Fanny and Edmund’s wedding in the final episode. How on earth did this happen? The miniseries made Fanny’s romantic feelings for Edmund perfectly clear. Yet, Edmund never displayed any romantic regard for Fanny, merely familial love. Even when revealing the end of his relationship with Mary to Fanny, he still expressed his love for his former fiancée. But the next scene featured Fanny and Edmund’s wedding. At least Patricia Rozema’s 1999 movie conveyed Edmund’s burgeoning romantic feelings for Fanny. Giles and Taylor failed to the same in this miniseries.
I might as well say it. I will never harbor a high regard for ”MANSFIELD PARK” . . . at least this version. Although its faithfulness to Jane Austen’s 1814 novel revealed the story in greater detail than the 199 and 2007 movies, I believe there were scenes in which it should have been less faithful in order to overcome some of the story’s shortcomings. The miniseries can boast a few outstanding performances from the likes of Nicholas Farrell and Jackie Smith-Wood. But it was hampered by other performances, especially the wooden acting by lead actress, Sylvestra Le Touzel. In the end, ”MANSFIELD PARK” proved to be a mixed bag for me.