Patricia Rozema’s ‘Mansfield Park’ on Hulu

Frances O’Conner is Fanny Price in Patricia Rozema's adaptation of the Jane Austen novel

Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Mansfield Park (1999) combines Jane Austen’s novel with elements of her letters and journals to turn heroine Fanny Price (played by Frances O’Conner) into a woman of self-possession and confidence. The strong-willed, creative girl in an impoverished family is sent to live with snooty rich relatives, where she is more than a servant but less than an equal and can be found stitching or reading in a corner at all functions, shuttled out of the way and ignored by all but her cousin Edmund (Jonny Lee Miller). Until a dashing new gentleman arrival (Alessandro Nivola) falls for her charms and asks for her hand.

Rozema’s script is at times too modern for its period and too clever for its own good, bringing a modern perspective to the social conventions and 19th century attitudes. There’s an entire subtext dealing with the Caribbean slavery that is the family’s fortune and income, which all but drives one son mad and sends the family patriarch (an otherwise kindly figure played by Harold Pinter), into a rage every time it’s mentioned

But Rozema’s direction is rich and tactile—she’s an often sensual director sensitive to the quiet moments and intimate details of small character interactions within larger scenes—and Frances O’Conner delightfully brings Fanny to life with charm and intelligence. The film’s glorious centerpiece, a mock coming out ball, turns into a flirty festival of desire where every gesture and glance spins a romantic web better than any speech could convey.

Rated PG-13.

Watch it on Hulu

Also on DVD and on SVOD through Amazon Video, iTunes, GooglePlay and/or other services. Availability may vary by service.

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Sean Axmaker is a Seattle film critic and writer. He writes the weekly newspaper column Stream On Demand and the companion website, and his work appears in Vulture, Turner Classic Movies online, Keyframe, and Parallax View.

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