Judging a DVD by Its Cover

In doing some research to put together a Movie Versions Page of adaptations of Mansfield Park, I noticed how diverse were the styles that the descriptions on the backs of the DVD covers were written in, and how well they reflect the respective styles and focus of each film. This post is a short comparison of these descriptions.

Mansfield Park 1983

True Virtue triumphs over superficiality in this distinguished, remastered BBC production of Jane Austen’s celebrated novel Mansfield Park.

Set in 18th century England, Jane Austen’s tale of virtue and vice, tells of young and impoverished Fanny Price who arrives at the elegant country estate of her uncle, Sir Thomas Bertram. Snubbed by everyone except her cousin Edmund, Fanny begins her long struggle for acceptance by her shallow relatives who believe wealth automatically means quality. When Fanny finally wins the respect of her snobbish relatives, she incurs the displeasure of her uncle by rejecting the handsome philanderer Henry Crawford because she has fallen in love with Edmund. (Description from DVD cover.)

“True Virtue triumphs over superficiality” is not a bad description of the story of Jane Austen’s Mansfield Park. This version of Mansfield Park is a gentle, thorough, accurate rendition of Jane Austen’s novel. The description on the back of this DVD case would be equally appropriate on the back of a book edition of the novel. A “tale of virtue and vice” describes Jane Austen’s novel well …

Mansfield Park 1999

This fun and sexy comedy tells a timelessly entertaining story where wealth, secret passions and mischievous women put love to the test…with delightfully surprising results! When a spirited young, Fanny Price, is sent away to live on the great country estate of her rich cousins, she’s meant to learn the ways of proper society. But while Fanny learns “their” ways, she also enlightens them with a wit and sparkle all her own! Featuring an exciting ensemble cast of young stars—you’ll join critics everywhere in their overwhelming praise of this smart, playful and funny hit! (Description from DVD cover.)

… On the other hand, “fun and sexy comedy” does not. Mansfield Park is, arguably, the least comic of Jane Austen’s novels. Would anyone call Fanny Price “mischievous” or “spirited” with “wit and sparkle”? These describe Fanny’s rival, Mary Crawford, much better than they do Fanny. Fanny triumphs by her gentle firmness, not by her energy and spirit. Simply reading the back of this DVD case tells you that the film greatly changes Jane Austen’s Fanny, as well as changing the focus of the story.

Mansfield Park 2007

In one of Austen’s most complex plots, Billie Piper (Doctor Who, Ruby in the Smoke) stars as Fanny Price, who goes to live with prosperous relatives at Mansfield Park. Fanny navigates a labyrinth of intrigues and affairs among the occupants of the house, while her cousin Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson, The Inspector Lynley Mysteries) remains her stalwart confidant. Also starring Jemma Redgrave (Bramwell) as Fanny’s observant aunt. (Description from DVD cover.)

The style of the writing on this DVD case reflects the style of the film. “Fanny navigates a labyrinth of intrigues and affairs among the occupants” of Mansfield Park: These words reflect the “modern” feel given this film, while the simple comment “starring Jemma Redgrave as Fanny’s observant aunt” shows how drastically this film departs from the characterizations in the novel. (Jemma Redgrave plays none other than the languid, insipid, and inattentive Lady Bertram.)

Perhaps we cannot judge a book by its cover, but I think that the descriptions on the backs of these DVD cases do a good job of portraying their contents.


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