As Northanger Abbey is one of Jane Austen's lesser-known novels it's perhaps not all that surprising that it's also been one of the least adapted. The only other adaptation that I'm aware of for this book is one that was made by the BBC back in the 1980s. Now the BBC are usually fairly reliable when it comes to literary adaptations, but reviews for their version of Northanger Abbey all say that it's absolutely awful and that it completely misses the point and humour of the book. They turn Austen's story into exactly the sort of gothic romance that Austen was parodying! I haven't actually seen the BBC adaptation all the way through but the bits and pieces that I have seen all seem to confirm that the reviews are accurate. The actors all seem miscast and the tone is far too serious. The BBC version also features music and wigs that could have only come from the 1980s! On the other hand, this more recent version is a really well-done adaptation of Austen's book and I would definitely recommend it. It was made by ITV as part of their Jane Austen season in 2007 (they also filmed Mansfield Park and Persuasion that year). Northanger Abbey is by far the best of the three and this is mainly down to the acting.
Felicity Jones does an excellent job at playing Catherine Morland. She portrays the naivety, sweetness and wide-eyed innocence of the character perfectly and is completely believable. She's equally matched by JJ Feild. I've said it before but Henry Tilney is my favourite Austen hero. He's witty, sarcastic, charming, quirky, wise, adorable and he loves novels! Obviously I love Darcy and Knightley and Captain Wentworth as well of course but Henry strikes me as being the Austen hero with the best sense of humour and he gets awesome lines. He actually makes me laugh out loud. So I'm pleased to say that Feild did an excellent job and was everything that I could have hoped for. I don't think I can give a higher compliment than that. Oh, I forgot, he has a very sexy smirk. I can't criticise the leading actors in this version at all and they have great chemistry together. Carey Mulligan also deserves special mention. She plays Isabella Thorpe and is also excellent. She's a shallow, money-grabbing, scheming, detestable bitch... in a good way!
This version is also well-shot and the costumes are very nice. I wasn't all that keen on the very low-cut dresses that they gave to Carey Mulligan though.
I think they were trying to establish that Isabella isn't as innocent as Catherine but Carey Mulligan does such a good job at playing Isabella that they really didn't need to do that. There isn't really all that much I can criticise about this version though really. Well, apart from a few things. This version is 90 minutes long. Although I do think that a Northanger Abbey adaptation is more suited to a 90 minute running time than Austen's other novels, this version still feels a bit rushed in places and could still have done with being a bit longer. And I'm not sure how I feel about them making Northanger Abbey itself the exact embodiment of Catherine's fantasies. In the book Catherine is expecting the Tilney's home to be this eerie, dark and ancient gothic building... but when she actually sees Northanger Abbey she discovers that it's a modern and perfectly pleasant and comfortable family home. She feels let down. But in this version Northanger Abbey is everything that Catherine was expecting it to be. Hmm...
The script for this version was written by Andrew Davies who specialises in adapting classic novels. He also wrote the screenplay for the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Davies also has a reputation for sexing books up and he does so in this. He does go overboard when it comes to Catherine's fantasies and dreams. They're a lot more sexual than Austen would have had in mind. In one of Catherine's fantasies she's lying in a bath when Henry Tilney walks by and holds out his hand for her to join him. Then, in another one of Catherine's fantasies, Henry has a swordfight with John Thorpe while Catherine leans against a tree and pulls orgasmic facial expressions : S These fantasies make Catherine seem a bit mental but it's not Felicity Jones's fault and she still does a great job. I didn't like the fact that Davies left out this brilliant exchange between Catherine and Henry either:
Catherine: "I cannot speak well enough to be unintelligible."
Henry: "Bravo!-an excellent satire on modern language."
Come on Davies! Those are two of the funniest lines in the whole book! I did approve of the expanded role that Davies gave to Eleanor in this version though and I do actually think that his script for Northanger Abbey is very good on the whole. The only real issue that I have with this version is Catherine's over-sexualised fantasies. I still really enjoyed this adaptation though despite its faults. It's really good fun and a little gem. And how cute is this scene?!