Sunday, October 18, 2009

Top 10 Austen adaptations: #9

Northanger Abbey
JJ Feild as Henry Tilney and Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

Northanger Abbey is the sole Austen novel that has been adapted only twice for TV or film. The 1986 BBC adaptation is without a doubt the worst Austen adaptation I have ever seen - Mansfield Park 2007 not excepted. The 2007 ITV version of NA, however, is a (mostly) charming rendition of what is perhaps Jane Austen's least known novel.

Northanger Abbey

JJ Feild and Felicity Jones were adorable as Henry Tilney and Catherine Morland. Both actors were almost perfectly cast. JJ Feild doesn't quite do justice to my favourite Austen hero, but then, I'm biassed. :-) No-one will ever really capture Henry as he is in the book. 

Northanger Abbey

Of the supporting cast, Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney and Sylvestra Le Touzel (Fanny in MP 83) as Mrs. Allen were, I thought, the most memorable. Though evidently made on a low-ish budget, the costumes and settings were still lovely, and the score by Patrick Doyle (S&S 95) is delightful.

Northanger Abbey

It is unfortunately a truth universally acknowledged that screenwriter Andrew Davies simply can't resist sensationalising classic texts. If there isn't a cheeky scene in the book, he'll invent one of his own - most famously in the "lake scene" of P&P 95. Northanger Abbey, the book, is a gentle parody of the Gothic novels that were so popular in Jane Austen's day. "The Mysteries of Udolpho" by Ann Radcliffe in particular is targeted, and is in fact read by Catherine herself in the course of the book. But for this adaptation, Davies instead chooses to focus on "The Monk", - a much more lurid piece of "literature" than Udolpho. For more on my annoyance at this seemingly innocuous change, click here.

Catherine with Sylvestra Le Touzel as Mrs. Allen

And I could have done without that scene between Frederick Tilney and Isabella. In the book, they flirt a good deal, but he doesn't seduce her!! Whilst there's nothing at all graphic, it still bothers me that they made that change from the novel. It's just cheap sensationalism - something which truly good books (like Jane Austen's!) don't need in order to be entertaining.

Northanger Abbey
Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe

Other cons: there aren't many, really. Oh yes - the running time - only 90 minutes, which meant that unfortunately some of best and funniest dialogue from the book had to be left out. Of course, there would have been more time for Austen's brilliant dialogue if it wasn't for the silly dream sequences. One more minor quibble: John Thorpe is a more unpleasant, annoying character than he is in the book. The same could be said of Isabella Thorpe. Unpleasant, annoying characters should be used sparingly onscreen, or the audience starts to lose patience with them (and the movie) - we see a bit too much of the Thorpes and not enough of Henry Tilney, in my humble opinion. ;-)

Northanger Abbey

But in spite of all my whingeing, rest assured the good far outweighs the bad in this case. Like I said, the two leads are wonderful, and it's one of the more charming, light-hearted Austen adaptations around. 

Northanger Abbey


Enbrethiliel said...


Oh, dear, that Andrew Davies! Sigh!

He's a very good screenwriter, but you're right that he indulges in inserting what I can only describe as "Fan Fic" into otherwise faithful and flawless adaptations. (Heh. I should know about FF, as a regular reader and sometime writer!)

I think his "worst moment" was the screenplay of Brideshead Revisited. He's much kinder to Austen than to Waugh.

Elizabeth J. said...

I did like most of this NA adaption but there was some sesuality which was not at all essential to the film. Overall, it was great. By the way, I love the new BBC Emma 2009!!!

The Editrix said...

Enbrethiliel - I haven't seen the new Brideshead Revisited, but I've heard something about it. :-/ Fan fic - yes, that's probably a good way to describe it, LOL!

Elizabeth - I agree. :-) Glad you're enjoying Emma! Episode 3 should be up soon!

Miss Jen said...

LOVED this post...
Northanger Abbey is one
of my favorite Jane Austen
movies to watch... Henry Tilney
is so great.... I just love his
personality and character!!

Love~ Jen

Charity said...

Oh, come now -- we all love the lake scene in P&P and you know it. ;)

I did mind this adaptation, but it was not nearly gripping enough. I watched it once and never thought of it again, which is a shame, because most Austen adaptations get multiple viewings from my quarter.

Andrew Davis loves to "sex up" costume dramas -- you will notice he does it as much as possible, in a wide variety of adaptations. As noted here, he brought out the subtle themes of "Brideshead Revisited" in much more dramatic terms (read: explicit). He also put quite a lot of smut in "The Way We Were," or whatever that dreadful Anthony Trollop adaptation is called, and added the Willoughby seduction scene to the new S&S.

Meh. He needs to stop it.

The Editrix said...

Miss Jen - so do I! :-)

Charity - LOL, I thought the lake scene was a bit silly, to be honest. . .

No, it's not particularly gripping, but it's fun. And it's the only decent version of NA around.

Meh. He needs to stop it.

Agreed. . .

Charity said...

Oh, come on... Colin Firth with a wet shirt is never a bad thing. I have kept track, and so far have seen him with a wet shirt 6 times, in 6 different movies. I think the poor boy is being harassed.

I wonder then if he hates Andrew Davies as much as the rest of us do, at times? ;)

The Editrix said...

ROFL! Yes, he probably bears a grudge against Davies and Austen for typecasting his career. . .