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DVD reviews: Austen enjoyable even without Mr. Darcy

Published: Friday, Jan. 25 2008 12:37 a.m. MST

Billie Piper as Fanny Price, left, Joseph Beattie as Henry Crawford and Blake Ritson as Edmund Bertram in "Mansfield Park."

PBS

"NORTHANGER ABBEY" and "MANSFIELD PARK" (WGBH Boston Video, $24.95, sold separately, not rated)

The lush English countryside, the magnificent manor houses, the snobbery of the British class system and the deceptions and misunderstandings of love all make appearances in the latest adaptations of Jane Austen novels.

But, alas, Mr. Darcy does not.

WGHB Boston Video is releasing it two latest DVDs from the Masterpiece series of Austen's novels. The series, "The Complete Jane Austen," debuted last Sunday on PBS stations nationwide. PBS will showcase all six of Austen's novels, including the 1995 "Pride and Prejudice," with Colin Firth as the definitive Mr. Darcy, over the next three months.

The first in the series, "Northanger Abbey," which was released Tuesday, is based on Austen's first novel to be completed for publication.

It follows Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) who is invited to a medieval country house because of her budding friendship with the younger son, Henry (J.J. Feild), of the estate.

Catherine's overactive imagination, fueled by her obsession with Gothic novels, causes the innocent teen to view her life through the lens of the romance/horror tales. (The campy bodice-ripper scenes are funny but definitely not for viewing by children.) Catherine eventually learns the hard way that fiction isn't reality.

The lively Jones is believable as the naive Catherine. And the quality is what you'd come to expect from Masterpiece.

"Mansfield Park" comes from Austen's most complex novel and arguably the book that is most disliked by her fans, at least according to Web chatter.

Fanny Price (Billie Piper) goes to live with her wealthy uncle and aunt at Mansfield Park. Of her four cousins, only Edmund Bertram (Blake Ritson) is kind to the timid Fanny. He becomes her confidant and she falls in love with him, but first she must navigate the intrigue, scandal and social structure of "Mansfield Park."

As with "Northanger Abbey," this piece has the grandeur of an Austen novel. The shy heroine lacks the spark and endearing qualities of headstrong Elizabeth Benet. But Ritson is strong as the tenderhearted Edmund.

But, alas, he is no Mr. Darcy.

Also new on the DVD scene:

"The Hunting Party" (The Weinstein Company, $28.95, rated R): While on the trail of a Bosnian war criminal, a newsman and his cameraman become the prey when they are mistaken for the CIA. With Richard Gere, Terrence Howard, Lejla Hadzimuratovic.— MCT

Following is a partial schedule of DVD releases:

Jan. 22: "Adrift in Manhattan" — Universal/Screen Media; "Moliere" — Sony; "Reservation Road" — Universal; "Sydney White" — Universal

Jan. 29: "Canvas" — Universal/Screen Media; "The Comebacks" — Fox; "Daddy Day Camp" — Sony; "Feel the Noise" — Sony; "Ira & Abby"— Magnolia; "Mr. Untouchable" — Magnolia; "The Nines" — Sony; "Raising Flagg" — Cinema Libre; "Right at Your Door" — Lionsgate; "Rocket Science" — HBO Video


E-mail: angie@desnews.com

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