Prior to writing this post, I had only watched this version of Mansfield Park one time, about a decade ago on my local public television station. Frankly, I haven’t felt compelled to revisit it up to now. With the vague recollection that I hadn’t been particularly impressed, I dove in, trying to keep an open mind as I watched it on repeat. My little complaints with it poked their heads up again, reminding me of why I had formed my original opinion. I had a somewhat different experience, however, having watched so many adaptations of various works in recent years, and I have to say, the continuity folks did a great job with the candles in this production. You will find that this post includes a substantial degree of opinion, meaning that some of these aren’t “goofs” in the technical sense, but fall into the category of “What were they thinking?”
10.) Regency ladies didn’t do this. This is a common goof in period dramas, I think because they want to give the characters something to do. In this scene, Fanny Price is shown holding an embroidery hoop with an intricate pattern, supposedly working on this by candlelight. Modern audiences may not question this, used as we are, to modern lighting. Candlelight does not provide sufficient illumination to support the precise placement of stitches required for embroidery. Precision stitching was a daytime occupation. Hidden stitches, such as the running stitch used in a seam would be a more likely nighttime sewing project.
9.) They took the modernization of Fanny Price a bit too far. Although she was the poor relation, and a case could be made for putting her in outdated clothing, she was still a family member in a genteel, aristocratic household. While a younger adolescent may wear their hair down, by the time Fanny Price was of marriageable age, she would have been wearing her hair up, pinned into a bun or other mature style. Even if we gave her a pass on the style, Jane Austen’s Fanny Price would never be a bleached blond with roots showing. A quick google search confirmed that the light brown we see at the roots is her natural hair color.
8.) What sorcery is this? For some inexplicable reason, this adaptation replaces the ball thrown in Fanny’s honor with a picnic. They start with some games accompanied by the lone fiddler at the party. When they start dancing, the music on the soundtrack swells to include multiple instruments in spite of the single musician. It’s jarring once you notice it. I didn’t realize it the first time I watched it, being distracted by the idea of dancing at a picnic. On the lawn. I tried to find a period-appropriate reference to this being a done thing, and came up empty-handed.
7.) The Navy wasn’t on the line just yet. The soundtrack includes the melody of “The Navvie on the Line.” Mansfield Park is set in 1808-1809. The composer, James Hill, was not born until 1811.
6.) A thoroughly modern Fanny. The producers of the ITV production reportedly considered Fanny Price, as written, to be too boring. To market the story to a contemporary audience, they cast a popular actress, Billie Piper, and gave Fanny a personality makeover. This adaptation features a Fanny Price who is reminiscent of Elizabeth Bennet. Playful, athletic, and outspoken, she has very little in common with the stoic and quietly virtuous character Jane Austen wrote.
5.) What’s up with the wardrobe? By the year 1808, the Empire style that raised the waistline to just below the bust had been established for nearly a decade. We see many examples of waistlines reminiscent of the earlier Georgian period clothing throughout this production, with a handful of Empire gowns sprinkled in. Even if the Bertrams were scrimping a bit on clothing to offset their financial distress, Maria’s wedding clothes would all be new. This makes the image of Maria Rushworth nee Bertram coming down the stairs on her wedding day seem peculiar. It is unlikely that a newly made gown for a fashionable lady who would be taking up residence in London would use an outdated style. Examples of the Empire style can be seen in the 1808 fashion plate below the picture of Maria.
4.) Untwisting the plot. Anyone familiar with the plot of Mansfield Park knows that Fanny’s banishment to Portsmouth is an intrinsic part of the plot and Fanny’s character development. This adaptation has replaced her being sent away with being left behind for a few weeks at Mansfield Park, depriving the tale of this pivotal element. This change in the script reveals the sad truth that the screenwriter lacked insight into the basic themes of the story. This is a tragic goof, depriving the heroine of truly defining events in her arc.
3.) Blind Man’s Bluff. The picnic scene follows the scene where Edmund has given Fanny a chain for the cross that William had gifted her. Edmund is blindfolded, and, having caught Fanny by the waist, must guess who it is. He knows from the clothing that the person is female. He moves up the sleeves to the shoulders, skirts over to the neck and then slightly down the skin on her chest until he feels the cross and guesses it is Fanny, who is awkwardly silent for the duration of Edmund’s exploration. It seems a shockingly intimate interaction for that period.
2.) Prohibited activity. We’ve seen this goof in a few other Austen adaptations with military men. It seems that the costumers just couldn’t resist putting the uniforms in the costume closet onto the navy man. William Price is shown in his uniform in literally every scene he’s in. Jane Austen herself tells us why this is a goof.
“William had obtained a ten days’ leave of absence, to be given to Northamptonshire, and was coming, the happiest of lieutenants, because the latest made, to shew his happiness and describe his uniform.
He came; and he would have been delighted to shew his uniform there too, had not cruel custom prohibited its appearance except on duty.”
1.) The Wedding Waltz. It’s a romantic scene at the end, where Edmund takes his new bride and twirls her in a waltz in front of the friends and family gathered to celebrate their wedding. It’s also, in 1808, still considered a scandalous dance. Newly ordained and serious clergyman Edmund would never have done this. Not for another six or seven years, anyway. The waltz didn’t begin to gain acceptance in English society until 1814 at the earliest.
If you have seen this adaptation, how many of these goofs did you catch? Are you aware of any other goofs to add to the list? I invite your observations an opinions. Leave them in the comments below. I add my best wishes to all of our readers for your health and happiness.