This 1986 production has the right ingredients for a praiseworthy adaptation of a classic novel: loyalty to the author's vision, accomplished acting, and historically accurate settings and costumes. But modern audiences may balk at the lack of passion and glamor in the central character, Fanny Price (Sylvestra Le Touzel). She is shy, down-to-earth, primly upright, and merely pretty rather than beautiful. However, this is not director David Giles' interpretation of Fanny; it is Fanny as Jane Austen (1775-1817) wrote her. Of course, in remaining faithful to the 1814 novel, Giles risks alienating viewers who prefer spirited, assertive Austen heroines, like the feminist Fanny (Frances O'Connor) in Patricia Rozema's 1998 adaptation of Mansfield Park. Critics both praised and panned that production, generally because their viewpoints reflected their acceptance or rejection of Rozema's revisionism. The 1983 film -- produced by the BBC as a TV miniseries -- is undeniably superior in at least one respect: its 261-minute running time, which allows it to present more of the plot and more of Austen's original dialogue. But it is undeniably inferior in its production values, appearing stagy, like a play, and the sound quality is only marginally better than that recorded by a portable tape recorder. In both productions, though, the acting and period ambience leave little room for criticism. In the end, the question of which is the better film ultimately depends on whether viewers prefer their Austen pure and straight up or spiked with 80-proof interpretation.
by Mike Cummings review