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Listen up: Benedict Cumberbatch + Jane Austen = ‘Mansfield Park’

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Clockwise from top left: Benedict Cumberbatch (Edmund), Felicity Jones (Fanny), James Callis (Henry), David Tennant (Tom).

While we in the States might think of the radio in terms of Top 40 tunes, “Delilah” or NPR, the United Kingdom has a rich tradition of radio dramas. Across the Pond, listeners tune in to a wide variety of programming, including soap operas such as “The Archers” or adaptations of sci-fi novels by authors such as Terry Pratchett.

In 2003, BBC Radio aired an audio dramatization of “Mansfield Park” featuring actors whose star power by now has reached the States: David Tennant (“Doctor Who,” “Broadchurch”) plays Tom Bertram, Felicity Jones (“The Theory of Everything” and the 2008 adaptation of “Northanger Abbey”) is Fanny, and Benedict Cumberbatch — yes, Sherlock — is Edmund. The adaptation was re-broadcast in 2014 to celebrate the book’s 200th anniversary, airing on the radio in 10 15-minute episodes. You can  purchase the uninterrupted two-hour version on Audible for $15.49. You can also listen to a free sample there. 

It can be a bit strange to listen to an audio drama, especially if you (like me) are not used to them. The audio cues (hoofbeats, dog barks and the like) threw me off for a bit. But the story sucks in you quickly enough, thanks to the talented voice cast — which includes narrator Amanda Root, who played Anne Elliot in the 1995 “Persuasion” film.

I particularly enjoy Jones’s portrayal of Fanny, with her mix of fragility and steadfastness, and Tennant’s boisterous Tom. Cumberbatch easily lets Edmund’s earnestness shine through. However, this adaptation plays up the callousness of Henry and Mary Crawford (Susan Lynch). James Callis (“Austenland”) voices an especially oily Henry Crawford — every sentence he utters seem to drip with flirtation.

Overall, if you’re looking for a different approach to “Mansfield Park” adaptations, give this one a try.


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