Deborah Yaffe

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By Deborah Yaffe, Nov 9 2020 02:00PM

I’m afraid I have some very bad news. The pandemic has taken so much from us, and now it seems to have taken something more.


Long ago, in the Before Times -- aka January -- the entertainment press reported that the Hallmark Channel was planning to add yet another Jane Austen-themed movie to this year’s Christmas schedule.


Since 2016, the channel has brought us five deeply mediocre rom-coms claiming Austen associations: Unleashing Mr. Darcy; its sequel, Marrying Mr. Darcy; and three Christmastime offerings – Christmas at Pemberley Manor; Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe; and Sense, Sensibility & Snowmen.


The newest addition, Christmas at Mansfield Park, was to be written by Melissa de la Cruz, a prolific novelist and TV screenwriter whose credits included not only the TV movies PP&M and SS&S but also the (very bad) novel on which the first of these was based.


Alas, however, Hallmark’s Christmas movie broadcasts have been underway for two weeks now, and Christmas at Mansfield Park is nowhere in sight. It’s not listed among the twenty-three new movies in the “Countdown to Christmas.” It’s not one of the seventeen “Miracles of Christmas” offerings. It has no IMDB listing.


This year, according to the announced titles, Hallmark will be bringing us Christmases in Vienna, Nashville, and Colorado, as well as in the (possibly fictional) locales of Evergreen and Glenbrooke, not to mention at a chateau. We will be able to enjoy a Christmas ring, a Christmas bow, a Christmas doctor, a Christmas house, a Christmas waltz, a Christmas carousel, and a little Christmas charm. The hot-chocolate-and-gingerbread train will not, however, be stopping by Mansfield.


Neither Hallmark nor de la Cruz seems to have issued any public explanation for the change, but online speculation assumes that COVID messed with production plans. Will the movie be rescheduled for next year? No word on that, either.


It’s unlikely that the delay in broadcasting Christmas at Mansfield Park represents a terrible loss for the art of cinema. Still, it’s one more small reminder of 2020’s abnormality. If you can’t count on Hallmark to bring you a bad Austen-themed movie at Christmastime, what certainties remain?


By Deborah Yaffe, Jan 16 2020 02:00PM

Just when you thought it was safe to put some cookies in the oven, toss a few snowballs, and top your hot chocolate with a dollop of whipped cream . . .


. . . it looks like another Jane Austen-themed Christmas movie will be coming to the Hallmark Channel later this year.


Yes, the folks who brought us the remarkably mediocre Pride, Prejudice and Mistletoe in 2018 and the equally tedious Sense, Sensibility and Snowmen less than two months ago have noticed that Jane Austen wrote other books. (I don’t think there was any way we could have kept that a secret, but perhaps we should have tried harder.)


And thus it is that Deadline reported earlier this week that Melissa de la Cruz, who was involved with both previous films, will be writing and producing Christmas at Mansfield Park, slated to air in 2020.


The details are barebones, but those of us who have already seen two of Austen’s masterworks transformed into identical – dare I say cookie-cutter? – Hallmark Christmas cliché-fests bearing little relationship to their supposed prototypes know more or less what to expect.


Probably Christmas at Mansfield Park will be about a free-spirited young woman named Frances with a do-gooder job (social worker? Pediatrician?) who has grown up with rich relatives – mom and stepfather, maybe? -- but returns to her quaint New England hometown at Christmastime to care for her ailing father.


There she meets a hunky local minister named Ed who needs help throwing a holiday party for cute but underprivileged children, not to mention extricating himself from a problematic relationship with a materialistic fiancée named Mary who wants him to get a job with a more prestigious church in The Big City.


Ed will walk in on Mary’s brother Henry kissing Frances under the mistletoe but will turn away right before Frances pushes Henry away and slaps his face. Snowballs will be thrown. A tree will be decorated. Small children will sing “Silent Night” while doting adults sip hot chocolate. And I will watch, because I am a Jane Austen completist with a masochistic streak.


It’s too bad, actually, because Mansfield Park fanfic is in short supply, and were the project in better hands, we might hope for something clever and witty. Alas, I think the odds are poor.


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