Top 10 Goofs in Mansfield Park (1999)

Top 10 Goofs in Mansfield Park (1999)

The 1999 adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park has much to recommend it, with stunning cinematography, an excellent cast, and a trimmed-down storyline with a runtime of under two hours. This was accomplished by cutting out numerous characters and subplots. Not bridging those gaps they created is also the source of three of the goofs in today’s list. The defining aspect of this adaptation is the overt and recurring references to the slave-trade woven throughout, a theme barely hinted at in the text by Austen. The incorporation of this topic materially changed the characterization and motives of two significant characters in the story, accounting for one of the goofs listed below. I’ll be particularly interested to hear your thoughts on this.

10.) The light of a single candle.  After the ball in Fanny’s honor, she retires to her room where a single candle is burning at her desk. Balls in this era were typically scheduled for a night with a full moon, evidenced by the shadows cast on the wall behind her from moonlight. In this scene, Fanny picks up a page of her writing and easily reads it aloud with no realistic light source. She doesn’t attempt to catch light from the window, nor does she stay close enough to the candle to illuminate the paper enough to read it. It has always seemed odd to me, so I looked it up. The reach of a single candle for reading is one square foot around the flame.

9.)  Salt cellar on the sill. On the morning Fanny Price departs, she is laying in bed and talking with her sister, Susan. On the windowsill behind her is a folded paper toy that is familiar to many as a “paper fortune teller” or “chatterbox.” The writing on it hints that it was put there as an inexpensive toy that a poor child might play with, but this is an anachronistic prop. This design wasn’t known as a children’s toy until well into the 20th century, although printed diagrams for folding salt holders of this design started showing up in the 1890s.

8.) Opportunities in tobacco? During the epiloge scenes at the end of the movie, the narrator tells us:

“Sir Thomas eventually abandoned his pursuits in Antigua. He chose instead to pursue some exciting new opportunities in tobacco.”

There is insufficient information to understand what we are supposed to deduce from this statement. It would seem to imply that he moved away from slave-labor, since the sugar plantations on Antigua in 1806 used slaves. Tobacco plantations at that time also used slave-labor, however, so there wasn’t really a moral point to the invention of a change in crop for Sir Thomas.

7.) What sorcery is this? After Fanny gets drenched in the rain, Mary Crawford brings her into the parsonage and gets her to remove her wet clothing. In 1806, neither corsets nor short stays featured metal fasteners at the front as seen in the undergarment Fanny is wearing. It but would have laced in the front or back with either hand-finished or ivory grommet lacing holes. The addition of metal hardware was at least two decades away.

6.) Sir Thomas would never do this. The trip between Mansfield Park in Northamptonshire to Plymouth on the southern coast of Hampshire required two-days worth of travel. No young lady of gentle breeding would embark on a trip such as this unescorted, something that Sir Thomas would not allow, let alone dictate. In the novel, Fanny is escorted home on the post coaches by her brother William, staying at the halfway point, Newbury, overnight. This screenplay, having eliminated William from the narrative altogether, didn’t bother with an escort. Fanny is sent off in the Mansfield carriage alone with a coachman and a footman. She arrives home in the same state. When Edmund comes to Plymouth to escort her home, this illustrates the approach that would have been considered appropriate and proper.

5.) Mail Call.  In an echo from the novel, where Julia Bertram elopes with Tom’s friend, Mr. Yates, Julia receives a letter from Mr. Yates, nonchalontly handed to her in this scene by Fanny’s younger sister, Susan. In reality, a young, single woman in her position would never be allowed correspondance from a single man who was not a relative. Such a letter, if Yates had even dared attempt it, would have been intercepted by her father. With scandal already hanging over the household, such an impropriety would never be allowed, and certainly not openly.

4.) Which way are we going? When Fanny Price is first sent to Mansfield, the driver stops the northbound carriage on a coastal portion of the road and young Fanny hears sounds coming from a ship in the cove beneath her. The driver explains that there are probably slaves on the ship, which is the first introduction of the slavery theme in the film. On her return six years later, she looks out of the window of the southbound carriage and sees the same cove. The perspective and angle of the coastline of her view is exactly the same, in spite of the fact that she would be facing the opposite direction in a moving coach.

3.) Sir Thomas Bertram’s behavior. Sir Thomas was written by Jane Austen as a man with a deep sense of honor who was also caught up with the entitlements of rank and wealth. What Jane Austen’s character did not deserve, however, was to be portrayed as vicious and deviant in his dealings with the plantation slaves in Antigua. The drawings that Fanny finds on Tom’s bed implicate Sir Thomas in brutal abuse, torture, rapes, and murder.  In my opinion, this took the slavery narrative too far. Not that those things didn’t happen on some plantations–we know they did–but that the behavior was imposed on Sir Thomas was entirely out of character. That it was illustrated in such a graphic way made his declaration that “My son is mad,” feel like a desperate and disingenous excuse instead of a tragic explaination.

2.) Mary Crawford’s behavior. The scene where Mary Crawford plays billiards with the men has a number of issues. While it was not unheard of for a woman to play billiards, the billiard room is not the drawing-room and having everyone, including Lady Bertram and her pug gather there during the game borders on the ridiculous. A gentleman of that era would never smoke in front of a lady–even if she was his sister–let alone hand her a cigarette to puff on in front of a room full of people. If it was critical to demonstrate Mary Crawford’s sophistication by incorporating tobacco use into the scene, the period-appropriate way would have been for her to use the product of choice among the fashionable set: snuff.

The final eyebrow-raising act in this scene takes form in Mary Crawford’s question to the room full of men after they had all agreed to put on the play, “Lovers Vows”. It was a scandalous declaration, coming as it was, from a supposed maiden. She said,

“I wish to play Amelia. But what I’m keen to know is, which gentleman among you shall I have the pleasure of making love to?”

Their reaction is hilarious to be sure, but it was nothing like the words Jane Austen actually had her say.

1.) Imaginary apples. Fanny stops outside the parsonage to gather some apples that have fallen to the ground. She bends over and we see her hands drop to the grass and back to the basket six times. Only three of those times, however, are actual apples placed in the basket. The other three times, Fanny is just going through the motions of placing the fruit with nothing actually in her hand.

This being a more current adaptation, I anticipate that many of you have already seen it. Did you notice any of these goofs yourself? Did you note any other goofs to add to the list? There are several more that I didn’t include here in my top 10 list. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is available for viewing in the current selections on Netflix, if you have a subscription to that service. In any case, I do hope you enjoyed discovering something about this Austen adaptation today. Please do leave us a comment so we know you stopped by.

16 Responses to Top 10 Goofs in Mansfield Park (1999)

  1. I didn’t read the book and was happy to find it on screenplay . But it sadly didn’t give me the atmosphere of Jane Austen novels. Sir Thomas was deprived of the sense of nobleness and morals a character like him have definitely had in my favourite novelist’s original book.
    The setting didn’t look like the manors and castles I picture in my mind for that era. The Mansfield Park looked dreary and barren, lacked furniture and paintings It struck me as a cold garage not a fancy 19th century aristocratic mansion. Last and worst point, I am especially offended by the the seduction scene Maria/Crowford which I would never expect in a Jane Austen film. That was shocking to me and to my innocent daughter sitting beside me. Something I proudly avoid watching for religion and good taste.

    • Many people, including myself, share many of the same objections you had to the film. I share your feelings about the scene where Fanny discovers Maria and Crawford together. I think they put it in for shock value – it didn’t actually happen at Mansfield Park in the novel, but in London, away from the sight of the family who only hear about it after the fact. Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts and observations.

  2. Oh dear! Thank you for pointed these out – I had not caught all of them during viewing.

    As others have stated, I also refuse to own this after watching a friend’s DVD which left me feeling disappointed and disgusted. 🙁

    • I think when you find the content upsetting that you’re less likely to notice more nuanced little things like how far the candle is away from the paper. I find it interesting that so many of us had similar reactions. Thank you for commenting!

    • When I first saw it, I hadn’t read Mansfield Park and wasn’t as aware of the significant deviations from the novel as I am now. I was also not nearly as familiar with the culture and rules of propriety in play, so my modern sensibilities didn’t question things that I now recognize as not right.

  3. A great post and I agree with you and J W. I thought it was a travesty of an adaptation. Did anyone else get the feeling of an almost too close interest that Mary Crawford had in Fanny? Maybe I’m just taking it up wrong but my daughter said it to me also.

    • Yes. Mary Crawford’s interest in Fanny seems more intense and sexually charged than typical female friends would be. It is the most obvious in that scene where she is helping Fanny out of her wet clothes in a rather seductive manner. My perception is that this was intended to serve as further proof of Mary’s “sophistication” juxtaposed against Fanny’s naiveté and innocence. This would, I believe, be categorized with goof #2 – Mary Crawfords behavior. Thanks for pointing it out, Teresa.

  4. I collect JAFF movies and had looked forward to this one coming out. Let me catch my breath… OK… here are my thoughts:

    First… I will agree that the stunning cinematography was amazing and I loved the film locations, customes and such… however: I loath, hate, and despise this adaptation. I actually became so upset that I grabbed the heavy garden shears and cut it up and threw it away.

    This Fanny Price was flirtacious, seductive, sexually charged and even Henry declared that she was killing him. Really? Fanny Price?

    Breaking the 4th wall by having Fanny interact with the camera/audience.

    During her attempts at writing she was rejecting ideas and throwing wadded up paper on the floor? That was an expensive waste. At least her mother had the good sense to question who was going to pay for all that paper.

    In canon, the seduction scene with Crawford and Maria happened somewhere else and Fanny was not the one who found them. It was a servant that reported to Mrs. Rushworth. I especially resented that partial nudity scene and felt ambushed by having to watch something I didn’t even know was going to happen. I had not even considered looking at the rating for nudity. Who looks at an Austen film for the rating? I guess I do from now on.

    Now we have the crux of the matter. That sketchpad of Tom’s just about did me in. I wanted to scream and throw something at the screen. I was horrified at what was depicted and at the decimation of Sir Thomas’ honor and reputation. It was horrid, horrid, disgusting and totally unnecessary. I, again, felt ambushed with such a graphic, horrid scene.

    There were hints that Lady Bertram was on something that calmed her nerves.

    This is the one movie I refuse to own. I am still mad at the director/producers. I know I have overlooked something but these are what I can remember off the top of my head without having to watch it again.

    • I can see that we are of a similar mind regarding this film adaptation. You’ve listed several items that were on my original list of goofs that I pruned down to 10. See how good you are at this! It’s one I don’t own either, for many of the same reasons as you stated. Next month’s trivia post will cover some of the rationale behind the screenplay in terms the characterization of Fanny Price, so I won’t address that here. I think (if I interpret correctly) that Fanny’s wastefulness with paper was intended to portray how accustomed she had become to the privileges of wealth. The idea that she had been allowed to waste paper at Mansfield when she wasn’t allowed a fire is a contradiction of the message.

      That scene where Fanny walks in on Henry and Maria in the throes of passion, is, as you say, far from canon. In the novel, Fanny is actually still in Portsmouth when it happens and it comes to her first in an allusion made to it in a letter from Mary Crawford, then illuminated by the newspaper article declaring their disgrace. It is what calls her back to Mansfield – not Tom’s illness. I understand that screenplays are structured differently than novels and that stories are re-worked for the screen, but I agree with you 100% that it was unexpected, inappropriate, and unnecessary to include such an explicit scene in an Austen Adaptation. According to IMDB, a sex-scene was cut from the US release in order to obtain a PG rating. I don’t know if it was this scene or not. It’s rated PG-13 on Netflix.

      In the film, Fanny doesn’t just hint. She says that Lady Bertram takes a healthy dose of opium daily. My original list of goofs (I found 15) included this for two reasons. Jane Austen doesn’t use the word opium, laudanum, sedation, etc., anywhere in the text. Her portrayal of Lady Bertram is of a woman who is indolent and lazy because she can be. It seems that nearly every one of the characters in this production has had their habits and nature exaggerated in one way or another.

      Thank you for your illuminating comment.

    • Thank you, Cindie. I appreciate your comment and I’m so glad you enjoyed the post. I hope you do find the time to watch this one. It was tough to find a precise way to put the issues related to the theme and characterization into the goofs, so I’m interested to hear how others feel about these goofs. If you do watch it, please consider coming back and sharing your impressions. Have a great week!

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