Poor relation Fanny Price goes to live with her aunt and uncle becoming a put upon Cinderella as she yearns for love.
Someone should alert the verger at Winchester Cathedral to watch for sudden cracks in the stonework; if Jane Austen gets wind of this adaptation of her third novel, she will be turning in her grave. Seldom has a film played quite so fast and loose with an enduring literary work in the dubious cause of seeming "accessible" and "relevant".
Fanny Price, is, as written, a frail, passive mouse - sexy she is not - whose worth is generally undervalued, the poor relation uprooted to the titular des. res. of her aunt and uncle, then put upon like Cinderella by all except kind cousin Edmund (Miller), destined for the Church and supposed to marry money. No prizes for guessing they're made for each other, but not before the seductive, worldy brother and sister Henry and Mary Crawford (Alessandro Nivola and Davidtz) have breezed into the mix to charm, lead astray and betray.
Rozema's cleavage-flaunting Fanny (O'Connor) is spunky, hoydenish, and a writer - flagrantly drawn from the boldly opinionated young Austen herself. In this version, indolent aunt Lady Bertram (Lindsay Duncan, who doubles as Fanny's haggard mother) is luckily too out of it on opiates to notice the children's pastimes, since these include the married daughter having it off with rakish Henry (full on rumpo! Unthinkable!) and the wastrel elder son filling his drawing pad with sketches of pater - Sir Thomas B. (Harold Pinter) - being fellated by and raping slaves on their Antigua plantation.
Alcoholism and some implied child abuse are thrown in for good measure; this could be Brookside in ripped bodices, but it's never Jane Austen, and it makes you long desperately for a sunny tea party and some droll millinery, really.
Although the production values, cinematography and all that stuff are top drawer, dubious casting isn't. Jonny Lee Miller is a doll but he can be no one's idea of a candidate for the clergy. Embeth Davidtz is too old to play Mary. Justine Waddell, who would have been perfect as Fanny, is completely wasted as the cousin with nothing to do. And Pinter should stick with the day job, his Sir Thomas a stiff caricature.
While it may be refreshing to avoid the obvious, flouting the spirit of a classic original is not imaginative. To coin a phrase, it's breeches.