Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Janespotting: Northanger Abbey, 2007 tv-film

After the psychedelic experience that was the 1987 adaptation of Northanger Abbey, I had high hopes for the 2007 version, especially when I saw it was written by Andrew Davies, the same person who penned the essential 1995 Pride & Prejudice (as well as the 1996 Kate Beckinsale Emma and the recent miniseries of Sense & Sensibility, as well as the sublime Bridget Jones's Diary). As this 2007 tv-film is only the second adaptation of NA, it didn't have a very high bar to clear to be the best ever, and I'm pleased to report it vaulted over that standard with no trouble at all.

My main problem with the previous version was in the tone—it was less a satire of the Gothic novel than a tribute to it—so I was extremely pleased when this version of NA began with Austen's own words in voiceover: "No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy would have supposed her born to be an heroine." The film follows the plot very closely, and although it condenses a bit, we get the same progression as the book: an early acquaintance with Henry Tilney that happens almost by chance at the Pump Room; the growing friendship with Isabella and the growing interference of her brother; the friendship with Eleanor Tilney and the invitation to Northanger Abbey. This version brings in Gothic elements in ways that are clearly satirical: the characters read from the books, or talk about them, and occasionally we get an imagined scene that is exaggerated. It all remains true to the essential heart of the novel: Catherine is a true innocent, uncognizant of the real plots and intrigues that swirl around her even as she imagines Gothic ones that nearly cost her her chance at happiness.

Although the script is a big reason for the faithfulness of this version, much credit must be given to the casting and acting. Felicity Jones is perfect as Catherine; with her big eyes showing every emotion that crosses her face, she is innocent, open, and appealing. JJ Feild strikes the right note as Henry Tilney: playful, intrigued by Catherine's purity of spirit, and serious when he must go against his father's wishes. Just as good is recent Golden Globe-nominee Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe, for she makes her a complex character who is sweet and sympathetic when Catherine first meets her, and only gradually reveals her flaws. The rest of the cast, as well as the costumes and settings, bring the rest of the novel to life just as you might envision it.

Altogether, this is a superb example of how an adaptation should be done, and this would be a great introduction to Northanger Abbey (or Austen) if you don't have time to read the book.


  1. I just requested it through the library based upon your recommendation!

  2. I hope you like it ... and aren't libraries awesome? You can try reading or watching something and it doesn't cost a penny!

  3. Watched it this morning! I really enjoyed it! I especially liked Catherine's exaggerated breathing during her Gothic "visions".

    I felt that things were wrapped up a little too quickly, almost as if there was a time crunch once she returned home. Don't recall the novel being quite as concise.

    They could've elaborated on Tilney's house being so much smaller, and yet C being willing to live there and even longing and dreaming that she might one day...

    btw I work at the Library so not only do I get stuff for free-I get paid while I'm checking things out!!!

  4. I agree that adding Henry's house would have given a fuller portrait of his situation ... but the ending of the novel was similarly rushed. In my copy, only the last 17 pages (out of 180) are needed to show Catherine's journey home, her parents' puzzled curiosity, Henry's visit, and the explanation of the General's behavior. I think this rushed plotting was another imitation of the Gothic form.

    Still, glad you enjoyed this version. And lucky you, working at a library!