Jonny Lee Miller Appreciation Week
Day One - A Film Role - Edmund Bertram, Mansfield Park 1999
Patricia Rozema’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park is considered rather controversial as far as Austen adaptations go. Rozema’s choices — including an actual sex scene with brief female nudity and a focus on slavery — seem at first incongruous with an Austen adaptation. I have to say, for many years, I myself was uncertain about my opinion on the adaptation. Jonny Lee Miller is darling as Edmund, Frances O’Connor brings some liveliness to Fanny, and Embeth Davidtz is absolutely delightful as Mary Crawford. But does it stand as a good Austen adaptation?
Ultimately, after literally years of personal debate, I’ve come to appreciate Rozema’s interpretation. It modernizes it without setting it in modern times. Austen was, many forget among the romance, a social commentator, her novels expressing a sort of proto-feminism by exposing the powerlessness women faced in the economic system of the time. So it seems fitting for Rozema to push the social commentary further by addressing slavery, another oppressive facet of the Regency era economic system.
It’s certainly not the most romantic Austen adaptation — but that, I think, is the source material’s fault more than anything. Mansfield Park is probably my least favorite of Austen’s novels, and Fanny and Edmund lack a lot of spark, personally or with each other, in the text. Miller and O’Connor bring more romance than there was between the kissing cousins in the book. The film ages well, and is the first of two Austen heroes Miller has played. Fun fact: Miller also appeared as one of the children in the 1983 adaptation of Mansfield Park. Between ‘83 and ‘99 Mansfield Park, and the 2009 Emma where he perfectly portrayed Mr. Knightley, Austen is Miller’s bread and butter. In 20 years I would love to see him in an adaptation of Pride & Prejudice as Mr. Bennet.