Mansfield Park

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9 p.m. Sunday, Jan. 27
WNET (New York)

Bringing January with Jane Austen to a close, Masterpiece Theatre presents a new Company Pictures/WGBH production of "Mansfield Park."

Contrasted to Patricia Rozema's wildly imaginative if somewhat far-fetched 1999 adaptation, this made-for-television entry is relatively literary and true -- though to some Austen fans it represents a dumbing-down.

Still, in casting its nets for a wider (read, younger) audience, writer Maggie Wadey and director Iain B. MacDonald have been able to capture some of Austen's gentle emotional insights, thankfully without resorting to any toffee-sweet sentimentality.

The role of Fanny Price, the Cinderella in this story of city and country mice, is taken by a sensually rumpled Billie Piper, who manages, by the end of the 90 minutes, to nurture the smouldering embers of her soul into something reasonably civilized. Her love interest, Edmund Bertram, is played by Blake Ritson as something of a good-looking clod until he, too, matures seemingly overnight.

The novel's two most interesting characters, city slicker interlopers Mary and Henry Crawford, are played by the cast's most interesting actors, Hayley Atwell and Joseph Beattie, and Douglas Hodge does a fine job as Fanny's benefactor, Sir Thomas Bertram.
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