Ok, seriously I know I’m not the only one with this complaint. Hollywood (or the film industry—whatevs) is notorious for screwing up great literary heroes. And sometimes, in the case of Jane Austen’s Fanny Price from Mansfield Park they do it more than once. I know that there are more than one rendition of this movie, but I’ve only seen these two (the Masterpiece Theater 2007 production and the 1999 version with Francis O’ Connor and Jonny Lee Miller).
Now, here is my issue with both of these films. They ruined the character of Fanny Price. It wasn’t the actors themselves, but whoever it was that had the grand idea to turn Fanny into a robust athletic Amazon with a spine of steel. Erm, no, for the love of all things literary STAHHHHPPP!
What makes Fanny Price such a special character is her many “weak” attributes. She is socially “weak” because she comes from a poor family who live in a not so pretty shore town and is under the charitable mercy of her rich relatives, the Bertrams. Sure, they take her in, out of the kindness of their hearts—or so they want everyone to believe—but really it was done more out of duty than anything. Fanny’s mother was married to a naval man who was out of work on disability and had eight other mouths to feed, it was the least the wealthy Bertrams could do.
Second, Fanny was weak physically. We often see this throughout the story as her cousin Edmund seems to be the only one who cares about her health, wondering how she can walk back and forth between the estate and their Aunt Norris’ house on petty errands for the old bat.
One of many examples is when the women in the family give Fanny grief over having a head ache that she unsuccessfully tries to hide. Edmund, of course, ferrets out the real issue and is appalled at how much they made her do that they were too lazy to do themselves.
“What!” cried Edmund: “has she been walking as well as cutting roses; walking across the hot park to your house, and doing it twice, ma’am? No wonder her head aches.” (p. 64)
Third, Fanny would probably be considered by many to have a “weak” spirit. When Miss Crawford or Ms. Norris make ignorant and rude remarks toward Fanny as though she really isn’t all that important, Fanny takes it on the chin. We all know Elizabeth Bennet would have had a cutting remark elegantly wrapped in the social niceties of her day, but not Fanny. That’s just not her style.
However, despite all of this, the film gods that be decide that Fanny should be played as a frolicking and robust young woman who knows her place in society, but gets the guy she wants anyhow through patient waiting.
Nope, nope, nope, nope.
If you have a healthy, confident young woman you can expect her to turn down a sleaze ball like Henry Crawford and not really care about the coquettish Mary trying to steal your main squeeze. However, no one would expect weak, poor little Fanny to do that, now would they? Of course not! That is what makes her incredible.
She essentially has very little to offer. She has no social standing, she isn’t the healthiest, and her economic status has made her a doormat, but she’s smart, very smart. She sees through the Crawfords instantly and even as they play everyone else, they don’t get past her. When Henry Crawford pursues her relentlessly, making her an offer most girls in her situation would not have been able to refuse—-Fanny says, no!
This is what I love most about her. She is the perfect underdog heroine and her strength of character and will is what makes her beautiful and inspiring—and look—she still gets the guy in the end!
So, Hollywood and the rest of the film industry, if you are going to borrow from books, please get it right or find some real talent to come up with new ideas. Novel concept, right?