‘Northanger Abbey’ (2007) (TV)


Please feel free to comment on my review.

Gothic Romance for Catherine Morland

This is undoubtedly the strangest story ever conceived by Jane Austen!

‘Northanger Abbey’ is one of the works of Jane Austen that I knew least about. It was when I was getting into Jane Austen through a personal project of mine that I got intrigued by this story. It’s Jane Austen’s attempt at doing a gothic romance, although it is fair to say this is more of a gothic parody.

In Jane Austen time during the late 18th and early 19th centuries, the most popular novels read were gothic romances. These included works by the Bronte sisters like ‘Wuthering Heights’ by Emily Bronte and ‘Jane Eyre’ by Charlotte Bronte. There were also Ann Radcliffe’s ‘Mysteries of Udolpho’.

This becomes an important theme in the novel of ‘Northanger Abbey’ as well as in this TV movie, as Jane Austen approaches the gothic romances from a mocking point of view. I enjoyed seeing this in the TV movie of this story, although it’s not really one of my Mum’s favourite stories by Miss Austen.

‘Northanger Abbey’ has been adapted before by the BBC as a 1986 TV movie. This is a TV movie made in 2007 by ITV, as it was transmitted during ‘The Jane Austen Season’ along with ‘Mansfield Park’. I saw this version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ first before the BBC version and found it so enjoyable.

The plot involves a young country girl named Catherine Morland, who is a devoted fan and reader of gothic romances including ‘Udolpho’. Catherine fantasies herself as one of the heroines from those gothic romances. Soon, she is invited by friends Mr and Mrs Allen to join and stay with them in Bath.

Excited and thrilled to see Bath, Catherine joins them and enjoys the sights of the city. She then meets and falls in love with the gallant Henry Tilney, as she spends her time in Bath. Eventually she gets invited by Henry’s father General Tilney to stay with the Tilneys at the gothic Northanger Abbey.

Another aspect of the story that appealed to me was the story’s setting in Bath. Bath is a city that I’ve visited many times with my parents before and it is also where Jane Austen used to live for a time. Bath became a setting the two Jane Austen novels called ‘Northanger Abbey’ and ‘Persuasion’.

‘Northanger Abbey’ is based on Jane Austen’s early visits to Bath when she was a young girl in 1797. This is a contrast to Jane’s residence in Bath in the 1800s at the time when she wrote ‘Persuasion’. It was interesting to see how Miss Austen presented the idyllic views of Bath for Catherine in the story.

I was shocked and disappointed to discover that this TV movie version of ‘Northanger Abbey’ wasn’t filmed in Bath at all. Apparently it was filmed in Dublin, Ireland. Why couldn’t they have filmed this TV movie in the real Bath? The other TV adaptations of ‘Northanger’ and ‘Persuasion’ have done so.

‘Northanger Abbey’ was adapted by Andrew Davies for this TV movie. Andrew Davies is also notorious for adapting ‘Pride & Prejudice’ in 1995, ‘Wives & Daughters’ (by Elizabeth Gaskell) in 1999 and ‘Sense and Sensibility’ in 2008 for the BBC. Suffice to say, I find some of his TV adaptations dodgy.

Don’t get wrong, most of the time Andrew Davies’ adaptations for classical dramas are pretty good. But there are moments when he homes in on the most sensational aspects of the period dramas that wouldn’t have been true to the original book. This is very true in the case of ‘Northanger Abbey’.

Through this TV movie of ‘Northanger Abbey’, there are sequences where Catherine Morland fantasies herself in a gothic romance novel and they seem like dream sequences to me. This was also done in the BBC version from 1989, but I’m not sure if many of these scenes were true to the novel.

I greatly enjoyed seeing the cast of ‘Northanger Abbey’ in this TV movie. There were many faces I recognised in this TV movie, including Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan. I have to say I enjoy seeing these TV adaptations of classic dramas. I get to spot actors I recognise from other shows and movies.

Felicity Jones stars as Catherine Morland. I’ve seen Felicity Jones in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘The Unicorn and the Wasp’. I like Felicity’s performance as Catherine, as she delivers an honest portrayal of the character, who is thrilled to see the sights of Bath, but is so kind-hearted and compassionate.

It’s sometimes easy to relate to Catherine, who is so into reading her novels. I suppose it’s the equivalent of what I enjoy nowadays with ‘Doctor Who’ and me fantasying myself in being in the stories. But sometimes fantasying yourself in fiction is a big risk, as Catherine soon discovers in this.

There’s JJ Feild as Henry Tilney, the clergyman that Catherine falls in love with. JJ Feild also worked with Billie Piper in ‘The Sally Lockhart Mysteries’. I enjoyed the romance developed between Henry and Catherine, as he gently teases her over her love of reading gothic romantic novels in the drama.

There’s also Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe. I’ve seen Carey before in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘Blink’ and she starred in a BBC version of ‘Bleak House’. I like Carey as Isabella in this drama. Isabella becomes friends with Catherine during her stay in Bath, but she comes across as being very selfish.

There’s also Liam Cunningham as General Tilney. I later saw Liam Cunningham in the ‘Doctor Who’ episode ‘Cold War’ with Matt Smith. Here in ‘Northanger Abbey’, General Tilney is a cold and gloomy sort of character as he invites Catherine to stay with him and his family at Northanger Abbey itself.

The cast also includes Sylvestra Le Touzel (who played Fanny in the BBC version of ‘Mansfield Park’) as Mrs Allen and Desmond Barrit as Mr. Allen, who invite Catherine to join them in Bath. And there is William Beck as John Thorpe, Isabella’s brother, who roguishly tries to win Catherine’s affections.

There’s Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney, Henry’s sister, who Catherine makes friends with during the story. And there’s Mark Dymond as Captain Frederick Tilney, who causes trouble when he manages to seduce Isabella whilst engaged to Hugh O’Conor as James Morland, Catherine’s brother.

‘Northanger Abbey’ is a story divided in two halves. The first half takes place in Bath, whilst the second half takes place at Northanger Abbey. Northanger Abbey itself is impressive, and was filmed at Lismore Castle in County Waterford in Ireland. Shame we didn’t spend enough time at the place.

The gothic aspects taken place at ‘Northanger Abbey’ are pretty well-done with the thunder and lightning at night. Those scenes when Catherine is in her bedroom being scared out of her wits and also when she explores the house itself were gripping to watch. They’re meant to add the sensation.

There are no DVD special features for this ITV version of ‘Northanger Abbey’, I’m afraid. This is a shame, as I would have liked to have seen some behind-the-scenes interviews with Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan. It is a surprise these recent adaptations of Jane Austen’s works are limited on DVD.

This TV movie of ‘Northanger Abbey’ has been very enjoyable. It’s not my Mum’s favourite, but I enjoyed it anyway. I found it interesting how it reflects Jane Austen’s first impressions of Bath through Catherine Morland and I did enjoy the performances of Felicity Jones and Carey Mulligan.

‘Northanger Abbey’ (2007) rating – 8/10

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