Monday, March 25, 2013

Review: Northanger Abbey (2007)

 (This is the fifth of my reviews for the Period Drama Challenge.)

"No one who had ever seen Catherine Morland in her infancy, would have supposed her born to be an heroine." So begins the first novel Jane Austen completed for publication, and so also begins the narrative voice in the 2007 adaptation of Northanger Abbey.

I think Northanger Abbey is the funniest of all Jane Austen's works; they are all quite amusing, but I find Northanger Abbey to be so hilarious, that I often burst out laughing while reading it. I think the story has a more youthful feel, with all the imagination and light drama of innocence and naivete. Catherine is Austen's youngest heroine, and Northanger Abbey is a story of an ignorant young lady growing wiser and more mature, and learning about life through her adventures. 

This movie cuts out many significant bits of the book and changes some things I don't like. Northanger Abbey may be the shortest of all Miss Austen's books, but 1 and a half hours still isn't long enough to cover everything. Like Pride and Prejudice (1995), I feel like this is a good "companion" movie to the book, but not nearly as faithful.

Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay, and unfortunately didn't do quite as well as he did with Pride and Prejudice in my opinion. While I sort of liked the idea of the fantasy scenes he inserted as Catherine's wild imagination, I think she was much more innocent than he made her out to be - some of those fantasy sequences are much too sensual and inappropriate, although one or two were funny. They really did not fit what I imagined her to be reading. Badly done, Davies! I found a quote from him while I was researching for this review saying that he's proud of his reputation for "sexing up" his adaptations. That has seriously soured and disappointed my opinion of his work.

Felicity Jones is absolutely delightful as Catherine. The true test of an actor or actresses' success, in my opinion, is whether I like them well enough to hear their voice when I read the book. Felicity might be a little too pretty for Catherine, but why quarrel about that? I imagine her voice for all her lines when I read NA, and I think she portrayed Catherine as perfectly as she could have, given the downfalls of the script.

"Any vampires? Don't say vampires. I could bear anything but not vampires!" - Catherine
"Miss Morland, I do believe you are teasing me now." - Henry

J J Feild manages to exceed Felicity Jones's perfection in his performance of Henry Tilney. While I like all of Jane's heroes, I think if I could choose one, he would be my personal favorite. He's witty and humorous, while still being honest, intelligent and considerate. Feild portrayed all of this perfectly to my satisfaction. I just wish so many of his lines from the book hadn't been cut!

"Now I must give one smirk, and then we may be rational again." - Henry Tilney
(Thank goodness that one made it!)

One scene I wish hadn't been meddled with.
"From these circumstances sprang the instant conclusion of his sister's now being at his side; and therefore, instead of turning of a deathlike paleness and falling in a fit on Mrs. Allen's bosom, Catherine sat erect, in the perfect use of her senses, and with cheeks only a little redder than usual." - Northanger Abbey, the novel.

Eleanor (Catherine Walker) doesn't get nearly enough screen time for me, but she made good use of the time she did get. Her sweet submissiveness and gentle kindness comes through in every moment, and her sense and greater maturity makes her the ideal friend for Catherine.

Isabella is played by Carey Mulligan, and she was perfectly selfish and flirtatious, while also being endearing and friendly to Catherine. Shallow and scheming, some of her gowns are extremely low cut, which fits her personality, unfortunately.

"I remember, I wore this yellow gown. My hair was up in braids..." - Isabella
Isabella's brother, John Thorpe (William Beck) is much more despicable than she, in my opinion. He's a "rattle," saying anything he wants about anything and everything without regard to truth, and he will do almost anything to get what he wants. In one of the scenes I wish was included, he's previously engaged Catherine for the first dance of the evening, but is off in the card-room keeping her waiting when Mr. Tilney asks her to dance and she is forced to decline. He and General Tilney make a good pair of villains. 

When I was browsing YouTube for some videos in research for this post, I found a version of this movie with more scenes than our American edition has, and while I liked the tea room scene, being almost entirely from the book, I absolutely loathed another one, and wish I could erase my memory of it. It was quite horrifying, and I recommend that you avoid the "bathtub scene" entirely if you happen to watch the UK version. It was an absolutely dreadful instance of Andrew Davies doing what I should never have believed he would do before I found that exceedingly disappointing quotation. I feel betrayed.

Before I found out all of this, I had a fairly good opinion of this movie, only being disappointed that it wasn't more true to the book. I hope it won't completely sour my enjoyment of it, because I do enjoy the characters, and there are some lovely scenery shots, and beautiful costumes. 

Lismore Castle in Ireland is Northanger Abbey

Henry and Catherine arriving at the abbey.
One of my favorite gowns.

I love the hats and shawls!

I can't help but like Carey Mulligan (and her dimples!) even as a shallow character.
In spite of the unfortunate screenplay and distortion of Austen's most youthful novel in this adaptation, I really like Felicity Jones and J J Feild's portrayals. I think they worked well together, and however lacking this movie translation might be, it will not deter me from continuing to imagine them as I read the novel. 

Overall, I do think the positives of this adaptation might outweigh the negatives, and I hope I will still be able to find some enjoyment in the good aspects of this adaptation in the future - though I am afraid some of what I have discovered will increasingly irk me. I am, however, most sincerely attached to Catherine, and even more particularly, Mr. Tilney.

"To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen, is to do pretty well..." - Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey


  1. I'm hoping to get the opportunity to see this soon! I've never seen a movie version of NA, and this one gets overall favorable reviews, though most bloggers are not so happy with the added fantasies, like you. I want to see what I think myself!

    1. You definitely should! Unfortunately for me, these things tend to grow to annoy me more and more. I have seen this movie so many times... the first time, I really loved it, and barely even noticed the flaws. I would love to read your review!