When Fanny Price (Frances O’Connor) leaves her dirt-poor home in late-1700s England to live with rich relatives at Mansfield Park, her aunt tells her that her life will be “a quick succession of busy nothings.”
That could describe the entire movie.
Never was a movie more Jane Austen-y than this one. Fanny lives with a couple aunts and an uncle, as well as with a few other buxom brunettes who are all identical-looking. Seriously, it’s often hard to tell the four women apart, especially since their personalities differ so little.
Her life is easy and boring, two qualities in a character’s life that don’t bode well for a film about her. She grows up with Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller), who’s destined to become a preacher of some kind (they live in a parsonage). She’s in love with him, which is pretty obvious, but then Henry and Mary Crawford, brother and sister, move in and disrupt things.
Henry (Alessandro Nivola) proposes to Fanny, who’s really in love with Edmund, who is courting Mary (Embeth Davidtz). Ideally, there would be some suspense as to which of the two men Fanny will wind up with. The problem is, neither one seems like a bad choice. She could marry either one for all we care; both seem like they’d make fine husbands.
She returns home to her filthy, white-trash family for a while, but winds up at Mansfield Park again when one of its residents takes ill. Once she’s there again, she must confront both men in her life and figure everything out once and for all.
This is a movie in which a lot of events occur, but in which nothing really happens. Director/writer Patricia Rozema allows no surprises, no twists, no suspense — which is fine, if the characters are changing or growing somehow. But they’re not. No one gets any smarter or realizes any kind of universal truth; they all just kind of do stuff.
“Mansfield Park” is not boring, exactly. It’s well-acted, and the quaintness of the setting does a lot for keeping one’s interest. There’s also some subtle, jovial humor in the beginning and end. Unfortunately, the middle, while remaining upbeat, never amounts to anything substantial.
C+ (; )