Well, we’ve finished the novel, people, so let’s get down to the real work: Mansfield Park 2014, the mega-budgeted star-magnet “romantic” “comedy,” which draws unprecedented, gender-balanced crowds to the multiplex but also woos critics with its profound insights on the human instinct to escape the ha-ha! The Oscar (whichever one you like) shall be ours, and we can all crowd up on the stage in dresses that make us look way worse than any self-respecting famous person, because we have dressed ourselves and are concerned that we may have lost our $4 Target earrings on the way up the aisle! They will probably have to play us off with music, because we are loud and difficult to corral and probably waving at Colin Firth!
Are you with me, Austen Nation?
By which I mean, it’s been well-documented that the most recent adaptations of Mansfield Park have been…odd. To be fair, it’s not an easy story to adapt: there’s a play, and then there isn’t a play, and then adultery, and then some goody-two-shoes get married (goody four-shoes?). The End! We’re just waiting for the agents’ calls to pour in!
But really. I think we can do better. So let’s talk casting.
Fanny Price: I keep coming back to Zoe Boyle, Downton Abbey‘s Lavinia Swire, for no reason I can quite put my finger on. Who can play virtous yet inert, and make us like it? Readers?
(Fun fact: Just this evening, I learned that the 1997 theatrical-release Fanny is, in fact, Frances O’Connor and not Embeth Davidtz, Mark Darcy’s snooty law partner in Bridget Jones’s Diary ["To Mark and his Natasha!"]. For YEARS I’ve thought this. And I’ve seen the movie!)
Edmund Bertram: I have to support the existing choice of Jonny Lee Miller on this one, though it’s primarily because of his performance as Mr. Knightley in the most recent BBC Emma. Handsome and kind, yet vaguely judgmental? He does that so well. (See also: I am trying VERY hard not to suggest Dan Stevens, especially considering the next entry down. But Dan Stevens, you guys.)
Mary Crawford: Hayley Atwell in the 2007 BBC one sounds like strong work to me, and I hate to typecast the Downton crowd—but my imaginary Mary has, since she first stepped onto the page, been Michelle Dockery. (My brain is a nerrrrrrd.) Tell me I’m wrong.
Henry Crawford: Everybody I can think of for this is either Too Much (Ryan Gosling, self? REALLY?) or an infant (Matthew Lewis!). And here I thought brainstorming hot British actors would be my shining moment of usefulness. Help me, readers! You’re my only hope!
Lady Bertram: This really COULD be Embeth Davidtz. I hope she likes pugs.
Readers, who would you pick, for these characters or any other? Let’s hear it!
Come one, come all, to the Jane Austen Fight Club, where the very best from Jane’s world and the very best from everywhere else match wits and fists for all to see! The prizes: pride, honor, and the adoration of Jane fans everywhere, or a “The first rule of fight club is, we don’t talk about Mr. Darcy” t-shirt and possibly some Regency medical care for all your combat-induced wound-care needs!
Today’s contestants: Lady Catherine “You’re in MY House Now” de Bourgh, patroness to Mr. Collins and owner of many a fine staircase, and Violet “We Can’t Have Him Assassinated…I Suppose,” the Dowager Countess of Grantham, matriarch of matriarchs and subject of many a Youtube mashup. Both get whatever they want! Both enjoy lording it over their inferiors—i.e., everybody! When they put up their dukes, whose pride will prevail?
In their corners:
The Dowager Countess of Grantham has a big-ass house, a large and accommodating family, and a stare that would melt steel. She’s Maggie Smith. She wears excellent hats and says whatever she wants, and the Internet loves her for it. She always wins the flower show…if you know what we mean.
Lady Catherine de Bourgh also has a big-ass house, plus a dreamy nephew. She hosts a mean dinner party. She says whatever she wants, and nobody says otherwise. She does whatever it takes to get what she wants.
The Dowager Countess has a granddaughter who killed a Turk with her lady parts, the constant glare of electricity burning her delicate eyes, and a bunch of random, sick commoners sleeping on cots in her parlor. It’s rather too much to bear, one thinks!
Lady Catherine? Two words: MR. COLLINS.
This is bound to be a down-and-dirty brawl, but the Dowager Countess takes it all: the crazy but compelling family, the edgy sense of humor, and the Internet obsession. This, of course, indicates an inevitable rematch, because Lady Catherine does NOT take this business lying down. (She might, however, settle for marrying her sad, sickly daughter off to Matthew. Because THAT’s going to go over well.)