By Jennifer Abella
You can add “Mansfield Park” to the list of Jane Austen’s novels adapted into web series alongside “Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and“Emma Approved.” Now, I know what you’re thinking: Goodness, another Jane Austen web series? But “From Mansfield With Love” (on YouTube) — which follows Frankie, a hardworking maid at the Mansfield Park hotel, as she films video messages to her brother in the navy — deserves your attention. Why?
If you’re not a fan of the book, this might make you change your mind.
Maybe you’re kinda meh on “Mansfield Park,” finding yourself saying, Eh, I’ll read the book in May before the Jane Austen Summer Program. This series, which is just about over, could motivate you to read — and enjoy! — the book. Frankie is funny, sweet and relatable in a way that Fanny hadn’t been on my previous readings of the book. Rushworth is silly, yet endearing; Henry is just as much a cad as he is in the book, but you can see clearly why Frankie might warm to him.
Everyone in the series seems like someone you’d meet on the street.
Despite their real-world premise, “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries” and “Emma Approved” have a “this was made by Hollywood professionals” sheen to them, thanks to American production company Pemberley Digital.
If there’s anything “From Mansfield With Love” doesn’t have, it’s a Hollywood feel. Produced by the Foot in the Door Theatre, a community theater troupe based in St. Albans and Winchester(!), England, the series feels much more DIY and more grounded in reality. The lighting is more natural, the backdrops don’t feel like sets and, okay, maybe sometimes the sound is too loud or too soft. But most important: Most of the cast — Frankie and Ed especially — don’t seem like they’re acting. More than Lizzie or Emma, Frankie could be real. You could pass her in the aisles at Target and you wouldn’t notice her. Which is exactly how it should be.
The show goes outside.
“LBD” and “Emma Approved” both feel insular, with mostly interior sets and other environments shown only on Twitter or Instagram, not on video. Again, “Mansfield” takes a different tack. Frankie often takes the camera outside on the grounds of Mansfield Park. In one memorable episode, Frankie & Co. take a day trip to Brighton … actually filming in Brighton. It helps the show and viewers breathe a little bit, allowing the series to feel even more like it’s happening in real life.
Clever updates to the original.
One of the best things about modern retellings is spotting how the creators have translated the book for a new century. Here, Mansfield Park, Antigua, Sotherton are hotels, Ed wants to be a teacher, and Mary and Henry are a sibling designer/architect duo hired to give Mansfield Park a facelift. Everingham is a hot London restaurant.
Frankie, Frankie, Frankie
I’ll admit it: I’m not a big fan of Fanny Price; I always found her a little too meek. But Frankie Price? I got her back, no question. I love her spirit, her humor, her nerdiness and her chemistry with Ed (thankfully they are not related here). You can sense her affection for him just by her eyes, and you just want to tell Mary to keep her mitts off Ed.
The series may not be as binge-able as Pemberley Digital’s offerings — few are — but it’s modestly winsome and charming in its own way, on its own terms. Much like Fanny herself.
Things on “From Mansfield With Love” have come to a head in the last few episodes, so we’re nearing the end now. But you can start from the very beginning on YouTube with this playlist. Happy viewing!
Jennifer Abella is a TV/movie/pop culture/knitting/sewing/Jane Austen geek. Oh, and a total Anglophile. Follow@nextjen on Twitter.