If Jane Austen were alive, she’d be rolling in dough. The IMDb says Sense and Sensibility has been filmed 4 times, Persuasion and Emma 3 times each (not counting Clueless and other knockoffs), and Pride and Prejudice no less than 10 times. Of course, part of the reason one makes a movie from a book in the public domain is that you don’t have to pay the author.
Some critics didn’t like the fact that the director, Patricia Rozema, has taken considerable liberties with her version of Mansfield Park. Having had the great advantage of never having read the book, or in fact any book by Austen, it wasn’t a problem for me. I can take the movie on its own terms … and frankly, I don’t see what’s wrong with doing that sort of thing. The credits clearly state that the script is based on not just the novel, but Austen’s letters and ephemera like that. I read a little about her and discovered that Rozema added incidents from Austen’s life, such as having accepted a marriage proposal and rescinding it the next day. This is in the movie. And why not? A 200-year-old novel strikes me as fertile grounds for another take on the material. I enjoy new interpretations of Shakespeare. Don’t get me wrong, a careful and faithful recreation of a period novel, as in Tom Jones and Oliver Twist, can be terrific. But I also enjoyed Oliver!, which is about as far from Dickens’ intention as one could imagine. This movie is sly and funny, and has some scenes that had me laughing out loud. I think it is true to the spirit of Jane Austen, and maybe even more fun.