Patricia Rozema is a Canadian director with the nerve to helm smart, big budget movies, as she proves again in Mansfield Park
. She had her first hit with the quirky I've Heard the Mermaids Singing
(1987) in which the heroine, a mouse among art gallery sharks, eventually comes into her own, surpassing the mentor who's risen on her back. Similarly, in Mansfield Park
, adapted from Jane Austen's strongly autobiographical novel
, penniless city mouse Fanny Price (Frances O'Connor) comes to live in a handsome country manor with the Bertrams, her heartless, class-conscious relations. After many cruel setbacks, Fanny manages, by dint of writing talent and moral integrity, to win the day and the love of her life Edmund (Trainspotting
's Jonny Lee Miller).
Unlike filmmakers who dress up Austen's money-driven world in sweetness and light, Rozema rubs our noses in the fact that the Bertrams' wealth flows from the blood and sweat of faraway slaves. The adaptation never euphemises the down-and-dirty slum life which has swallowed up Fanny's mother and threatens Fanny if she refuses to marry the handsome but hollow fortune hunter (Alessandro Nivola) chosen for her by her benefactors. Playwright Harold Pinter is compelling as Mansfield Park's patriarch, Sir Thomas Bertram, capable of kindness but stone-cold when his aristocratic will is crossed. Embeth Davidtz (playing Mary, the amoral sibling of Fanny's suitor, with wonderfully seductive verve) and O'Connor almost resemble each other--and they are sisters of a sort, each vying, according to her talents, in a stock market where women must parlay sex to stay alive. In this entertaining ride in the socioeconomic fast lane circa 1806, Jane Austen comes across as a full-blooded proto-feminist with savvy charm.--Kathleen Murphy, Amazon.com