Do you only ask what I can be expected to tell? A review of Northanger Abbey 2007


We were not really moved to review ITV’s adaptation of Northanger Abbey, but several of our syncophantic minions, er, Gentle Readers seem interested in our opinion, so here it is. We found it a mildly diverting amusement but hardly great. It was obviously done on the cheap (did they think we wouldn’t notice that every outdoor scene in “Bath” was shot in front of the same arch?), shoehorned into 90 or so minutes so there’s plenty of time for adverts. Not that we think ITV unentitled to make money from its presentations, but if they’re really serious about this Quality Television thing, they might want to think about spreading these things over a couple of nights. It’s television, after all, you can do that, and then the Evil Austen Bloggers might not get all snarky on you. No promises, though.

With a little more time, perhaps we wouldn’t be missing those lovely little touchstones along the way of Catherine and Henry’s courtship–the muslin scene, the marriage/dancing scene, the theatre scene, the “your being superior in good-nature yourself to all the rest of the world” scene, the hyacinth scene, the visit to Woodston–are all botched or missing completely. Each of those, done correctly, done as written, could have been sexier than any stupid bathtub scene. When eyes meet with that electric knowledge of loving and being loved–oh, goosebumps!

Really what we missed more than anything was the humor. Northanger Abbey is Jane Austen’s funniest novel but darned if you could tell it from this. The only thing we laughed aloud at was the Tilney Morland kids staring at Henry. Not only was it rushed, not only were some of the best scenes destroyed or left out entirely, but all the raucous humor was subsumed under puerile Gothic melodrama that is completely out of place and actually illogical at times. All the delightful parody is lost as we are bludgeoned by the obvious.

The cast is very appealing. Unfortunately they are wasted on the rushed and sloppy script. Felicity Jones is a very cute Catherine, though we miss the sweet innocence of Catherine in the original. JJ Feild is quite a nice-looking Henry, a bit nerdy (just as he ought), and does a pretty good job with what he is given; he is a trifle smirkier than we think Henry should be, but considering all his character’s best lines were dispensed with, he needs to sell the lukewarm dishwater he was left with. And bless the lad, he had sufficient class to look Felicity straight in the eye as she stood up from the bathtub. Well played, sir; worthy of Da Man himself. Though really, he shouldn’t have laughed at Frederick hitting on the engaged girl, and he was way meaner than he needed to be in his mother’s room, and we were troubled by his tendency to brood and a positively revolting touch of insecurity. Buck up, sonny, you Da Man! Tilneys Do Not Snivel! (We have that cross-stitched on the chintz pillows here at AustenBlog World Headquarters.)

We really liked Sylvestra LeTouzel as Mrs. Allen and Carey Mulligan as Isabella–to the point that we begin to think she would have been better as Lydia in P&P than whatshername.

We have heard the lectures about how books must be contracted and changed to work on the screen, and that the over-the-top fantasy sequences were required to acquaint modern audiences with the Gothic novels known to Jane Austen’s readers. However, we have seen a delightful stage adaptation–twice, seven years apart, with two different casts, so it was not an accident–that adapted Northanger Abbey nearly word-for-word from the book, with scenes from The Mysteries of Udolpho juxtaposed. Not only does it reflect the relationship between Udolpho and NA–which is very strong–but it is rollickingly funny and the romance is wonderful and touching. It CAN be done–but not in 90 minutes, and not by those who don’t really get it, or are trying to do it on the cheap.

Really, we’re glad so many people enjoyed it, but you asked, and we tell. Overall, it was a mild amusement, but like almost every adaptation of a Jane Austen novel made in the past few years–we excuse only the utterly delightful (AND FUNNY! HELLO! CLUETRAIN BOARDING ON PLATFORM FIVE!) Bride and Prejudice–a waste of an opportunity to put together something really great. Instead we are offered another faux Jane Austen Brand™ product done to make a quick buck and directed to the short attention span crowd, while we turn into one of those cranky Middle-Aged Austen Whores who hate all the movies on general principles (except Bride and Prejudice and Clueless of course BECAUSE THEY ARE FUNNY!). What a picture of intellectual poverty.