Costume dramas — who needs 'em? With a sexed-up MANSFIELD PARK
hitting the big screen and a racy Madame Bovary on the box, are disrespectful Regency bonkbusters the only way left?
Woes: Miles Fielder
DESPITE THE FLEETING POPULARITY OF cheeky cockney gangster films and l'eelgood working—class comedies. period dramas remain the mainstay ol British cinema. Victorian dramas. Regency romances and lili/ahethan tragedies make for \yell-cral'ted. literary l'ilms. But. boy. are they dull. '()h \yhateyer shall 1 do. mama‘.’ Harry the young captain or the clergyman‘s son." Who cares after so Very many adaptations ol~ .-\Listen. Bronte. Dickens. llardy. et al‘.’
All six of Jane Austen‘s noycls .\'ortliunger xlliliey. Sense And .S'ens'iliilily. Pl'ltll’ And l’re/‘mliee. Persuasion. limmo and .lluns'jieltl l’urk —— haye rcceiyed such treatment. some more than once. on the big and small screens. And despite limma Thompsoth ()scar win for her Sense .ilml .S'ensiliility screenplay. these "heritage industry" adaptations are resolutely unimaginatiye ‘l'rock l‘rolics’ that prioritise drapes and dresses oyer drama.
'Regency was sexy'
In keeping with her revision of Mansfield Park — which, crudely put, contemporises Jane Austen's novel by ’sexing it up’ — director Patricia Rozema has cast young Australian actor, Frances O'Connor in the lead role as Fanny Price. Not well known in Britain yet, O’Connor has starred in a string of offbeat Australian films: as a twentysomething falling in and out of relationships in Love And Other Catastrophes, as a suicidal psychotic Kiss Or Kill, and as a gorgeously free-spirited girlfriend in Thank God He Met Lizzie.
’I think why Patricia gave me the part was because the work she'd seen of mine was contemporary and loose,’ says O'Connor. ‘I thought that her vision of Mansfield Park could be really interesting and would give me a license to be more myself in it and try and get away from
the serious aspect of period dramas.’
Like Rozema, O’Connor has no reservations about making changes to the original text: ‘I did a lot of research; I read a lot of Jane Austen’s books and things about etiquette of the period. And then threw all that away and just concentrated on who I was. It was fun rather than just following the rules of period dramas.
14 THE LIST View
Only the cleyer spin on [fin/no in the film (lue/ess‘. which relocated the action to a l.os Angeles high school populated by rich hrats. displayed any hint ol inspiration. In fact. the reinyention ot' the staid period drama. largely through contemporising the texts to make them palatable lot' modern. mainstream cinema audiences has become accepted. it not required practice. Witness Shakespeare re- imagined in Romeo Am/ .luliet tpost—'larantino beach party). Rte/lord Ill (Orwellian fascist nightmare). N) Things I Hate :llmul l'ou (another American hiin school romp. this dominated by an untamed shreyy) and Love's Labour's Lost ( 1930s Hollywood mttsical ).
(‘anadian director Patricia Rozema has continued the trend ~ though remaining in period with the latest Version of .llonsj/ie/(l Park. the partially autohiographical Cinderella story pi‘eyiously lilmed hy the BBC in l983. Rozema‘s l‘ilm deyiates from the source Itoyel in a number ol \yays: handsome rascal llenry
Embeth David: and Frances 0' Connor sex up a classic and upset the purists
(‘rayyl'ord makes loyc to the cousin of our heroine. l’anny l’rice (bottom and breast in clear \‘lCW and thus cut from the film’s American release); his equally promiscuous and bisexual sister. Mary. attempts to seduce
The Regency was a really sexy period; it’s a much less stuffy era than we think.’
Staying in period, O’Connor can next be seen in the imminent television version of Madame Bovary, Gustave Flaubert’s scandalous 1857 novel about a
bored housewife who escapes her dull existence by
taking lovers. While this adaptation of the French classic is more explicit than the four previous film versions — ’You can’t be coy about the sex’, says director Tim waell — O’Connor suggest a
deeper connection between Emma Bovary and Fanny Price: ’They are all women in waiting — women whose lives take on a whole new meaning when they meet a man who can show them a new, undiscovered side of themselves’.
Next up for O’Connor About Adam, an upbeat romantic drama set in contemporary Dublin and a remake of
the Peter Cooke and Dudley Moore film,
Bedazzled, currently filming in
America. (Miles Fielder)