From Mansfield With Love (Foot in the Door Theatre, 2015)
I’ll be honest: I really don’t like Mansfield Park. Not just in a ‘it’s my least favourite of Austen’s novels’ way, but in a ‘I just don’t like it as a novel’ way; I found it hard to engage with the characters and was left unenthused by the overall plot. Up until From Mansfield With Love, I had only ever seen one adaptation of Mansfield Park and it had done little to change my opinion. However, given that it was a UK-based web series, I decided that I should at least watch the first episode of From Mansfield With Love when it aired to show some local support. It only took that one episode for protagonist Frankie Price to endear herself, and I quickly grew to love this series and these characters.
Over the course of 100 episodes, Foot in the Door Theatre created one of my favourite web series from a novel I dislike which, in my opinion, shows the strength of their adaptation choices. There are some very obvious ones to do with the setting and the plot of the narrative: Frankie and Ed are no longer cousins in this adaptation, and even go so far as to make a joke about people marrying their cousins in one episode. In addition, Mansfield is no longer a stately home but a hotel owned by the Bertrams with Frankie working as assistant house manager under Mrs Norris. However, the skill of the adaptation choices in From Mansfield With Love lies not just in what they have changed but what they have kept the same. Having Will in the navy, as he is in the novel, and exploring the long-distance sibling relationship, touches on a reality for many in the UK which is rarely explored in British media.
One of the big strengths of the series is the characters, and Holly Truslove’s Frankie Price is obviously at the fore of this aspect. From the very first episode Frankie is relatable and endearing, and Truslove does a fantastic job of balancing a cynical humour with an inherent kindness and innocence that never feels unrealistic. As an audience, it is impossible to want anything but the utmost happiness for Frankie as she navigates the joys and frustrations of her life in Mansfield. Rewatching the series made me realise how much she grew as a character over the course of the series, and I was struck by how subtle that growth had been. Truslove manages to portray the trope of the reserved character standing up for themselves without it ever feeling condescending or cliché.
I was pleasantly surprised throughout the series how much I came to like some characters I would never have expected to like. I think that part of this may be due to Frankie herself: she is sympathetic towards almost all the characters, counting the good in them as more worthwhile than the bad. It would be easy to dismiss Tom much as he is in the novel: a thoughtless, careless character whose downfall is expected; yet from the first moment that Frankie is telling Will about Tom, the sympathy she feels for him being pushed into a job he does not want is clear. He clearly has some misguided ideas, but the audience feels the same slightly exasperated sympathy that Frankie expresses towards him. Similarly, I was not expecting to warm to Julia so much: Frankie talks about Julia’s loyalty to her family, and that is clear throughout the series. She feels left out and looked over in comparison to her older siblings, but she defends them fiercely.
The technical aspects of the series are also fantastic. The writing feels incredibly realistic: the moment in the first episode which made me think ‘I’m going to like this series’ was when Frankie said very reluctantly and embarrassed that she would make the videos ‘because you’re my brother… and I love you’ (Episode 1: “Dear Will” 3:50-53) which struck me as a very realistic British way of dealing with emotions. The filming and editing are of a similarly high quality, and all add to the tone of someone filling their sibling in on their everyday life.
Ultimately, From Mansfield With Love is a lovely series that I would whole-heartedly recommend. Foot in the Door Theatre have created some relatable and enjoyable characters within a narrative full of smart adaptation choices. Nearly a year on from the day the last episode aired, it is also a series which stands up to watching and rewatching, with new character aspects to notice every time. I can’t say that it made me like Mansfield Park any more, but sometimes the mark of a good adaptation is making you enjoy a plot you dislike when it is in a different context.