Among the slew of Jane Austen adaptations to hit the big screen during the '90s, Patricia Rozema's Mansfield Park was indisputably the most original. It retained the Merchant-Ivory gorgeousness of the production design and the decorous repartee that fans of Victorian British literature had come to expect. It mated them, however, with the offbeat sense of humor, feminist politics, and postmodern disregard for the fourth wall that Rozema brought to smaller, experimental films like I've Heard the Mermaids Singing and When Night is Falling. Lesley Barber's beautiful score captures the playful spirit of the film. Her lush orchestrations are fitting for the period drama, floating blithely alongside the accompanying shots of stately aristocratic homes and rolling English countryside. But, like Rozema's direction, Barber's score carries the potential to surprise; it is prone to flights of whimsy and fits of darkness. Both can be heard in the pretty "Through the Rain," which breaks into an almost Philip Glass-esque interplay of staccato piano and swirling strings. But perhaps the biggest surprise both in Rozema's screenplay and Barber's score is the handling of the slave trading career of the father figure character portrayed by playwright Harold Pinter in a rare turn as an actor. On "Paying for the Party," Barber allows the jarringly foreign strains of the African "Djonga (Slavery)" by Salif Keita to infiltrate the Victorian primness of her string-based score, conveying the socially conscious Fanny Price's shock at the direct connection between her own prosperity and the horrifying human rights abuses occurring thousands of miles away. This powerful moment is reinforced at the film's conclusion when "Djonga" is played in its entirety as the credits roll. But for all its boldness, Mansfield Park was a step toward mainstream recognition for both Rozema and Barber, placing the marketing machinery of Miramax Films behind the stellar work of two of Canada's best kept artistic secrets.
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AllMusic Review by Evan Cater