Archive | February, 2011

Northanger Abbey 2007

13 Feb

After 20 years with the horrible 1987 version as the only adaptation of Northanger Abbey, many fans were eagerly anticipating the new 2007 version. I was a little nervous about Andrew Davies writing the script, given his tendency to sex things up, but the cast looked really good. And then I saw it…

Suffice it to say- I was totally right! Most of the cast was really good…but it was really sexed up. Most of this was in the form of Catherine’s dreams, but there was something else too. One scene in particular was just plain wrong! Why, Andrew Davies, why? He seemed to interpret the story to be Catherine’s sexual awakening. Sorry, I didn’t see any of that in the book- it was a comedy! This version has funny moments too, but it’s really all the sexed up scenes that bothered me. Davies seemed to have missed the point, but at least not as badly as the 1987 creators did.

The Characters

Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

She looked perfect for the part. She was sweet and innocent in some ways, but in others Andrew Davies had to ruin her. Like the 1987 Catherine, she is constantly having lurid dreams and nightmares. Rather than being drug-based, however, she seems to be sexually frustrated. They’re all on the “racy” side- in quotes because we wouldn’t really consider them racy today, but they’re nothing Jane Austen would have written about! In one she is taking a bath and Henry gets her to stand out of the tub, naked, in front of him. This scene was cut from the PBS version. She also seems initially displeased to hear that Henry is a clergyman- I guess that profession isn’t sexy enough for her? I thought that was weird. She does read Udolpho in this but then Isabella gets her to read The Monk. This book was mentioned by John Thorpe very briefly in the novel, but it was not something appropriate for a girl like Catherine to read. It also misses the point- Davies was trying to focus on sexiness but seemed to forget that Northanger Abbey parallels a lot of Udolpho. Other than the sexing up, I actually like what they did with her character. She wasn’t quite as dim-witted as in the book or 1987, and she had chemistry with Henry, so you could see why he fell for her.

JJ Feild as Henry Tilney

I absolutely loved him as Henry! I like him even more than the book character (who, God knows, I love ardently already). He has such a beautiful deep voice and always seems to have a twinkle in his eye as he teases Catherine or Mrs. Allen. He is a bit more flirtatious with Catherine,  as in you can tell that he is romantically interested in her. In one scene he even refers to John Thorpe as his rival. He actually told Catherine this, which I did not like. Still, I would have loved to be Catherine in this movie, at least to be able to dance with him…swoon!

Sylvestra Le Touzel as Mrs. Allen

I liked her much better in this than as Fanny Price, that’s for sure! She played a really good, flighty Mrs. Allen and was actually the right age for the part, unlike Googie Withers. Mr. Allen had a few nice comedic moments as well.

Carey Mulligan as Isabella Thorpe

She was an excellent Isabella. Unfortunately her necklines were always a bit too low, as you can see from the picture. They obviously wanted the audience to know that she was not innocent like Catherine. I didn’t think it was necessary, because her acting did the trick well enough! We could tell that she was obviously sly and artificial, but unlike the 1987 Isabella, she was not so obviously evil that Catherine wouldn’t be fooled by her. What I really did not like was stupid Andrew Davies deciding to make her sleep with Captain Tilney, thinking that he would marry her if she did. WHAT? Isabella in the book was not a dumb bimbo who got carried away by her passions. She was a devious gold-digger who set her sights on Frederick when James’ fortune did not live up to her expectations. She would never compromise her chances of making a good match by sleeping with him! What if she got pregnant? What if someone found out? She knew she would be a ruined woman and all hopes of a good marriage after that would be lost.

For shame, Andrew Davies!

William Beck as John Thorpe

Well, he was a bit too good-looking for the part and not quite obviously repulsive, like in the book. Book John is not artificial like Isabella- he’s a stupid, rude oaf. Catherine only puts up with him for the sake of James and Isabella. Here she doesn’t seem quite as bothered by him. He says “damn” quite a bit, and while he did say it a couple times in the book, I don’t think it was quite as much.  He wasn’t bad with what he was given though. After James proposes to Isabella, he tries to hint to Catherine that they should get engaged as well. She is confused and doesn’t know what he’s talking about but he thinks she’s all for it. It was quite a funny scene. I also like the bit where he tricks Catherine into riding with him when she wanted to go on a walk with the Tilneys. He brags about his gig as he almost runs over Mr. Allen crossing the street on his crutches.

Liam Cunningham as General Tilney

I don’t know what they were thinking here. Like 1987, they made him purposely “evil” looking, whereas in the book he is not. The character is not really nice, obviously, but come on! He really looked like a villain and if I were Catherine I would not want to stay at his house!

Catherine Walker as Eleanor Tilney

Sadly another less than stellar bit of casting. Her performance was very good and she could have been perfect for the role-about ten years ago. She was 32 but I would have guessed even older than that. I always feel like a horrible person when I blast an actor for being too old, but I can’t help how I feel! It just wasn’t believable for me.

Mark Dymond as Captain Frederick Tilney

The Tilney brothers must have gotten their good looks from their mother in this one! I could see why Isabella would be taken with him, even if he weren’t the heir. He was a bored, jerkish character, but at least he was kind enough to hide his and Isabella’s little “affair.” Gah, even thinking about that scene makes me upset.

Others

The Morland parents have a pretty small part but were pretty good. Mrs. Morland actually sensed that Henry wanted to propose to Catherine and sent them outside to be alone, whereas in the book she had no idea. I thought it was kind of funny. James was really good and obviously nearly as nice and naive as Catherine. Mrs. Thorpe looked like what Isabella would become when she got older- and thankfully she and her daughters were not covered in garish makeup like in 1987.

Similarities with 1987

I don’t know if it’s just me, but I feel like a lot of the Andrew Davies adaptations I’ve seen recently have borrowed elements from earlier adaptations that were not from the books. I already mentioned in my S&S 08 review what I noticed, plus there were things from Bleak House as well. Davies admitted in his commentary that he deliberately copied John Jarndyce giving a speech that was part of the omniscient narration, but he also changed the circumstances of Esther getting sick- to be just like the 1985 version. I also noticed a few things in this version of Northanger Abbey. Like in 1987, the Abbey itself does not disappoint Catherine by being decorated in the modern style- it’s all dark and Gothic, just like she hoped. Mrs. Tilney’s room is even in a totally separate area from the rest of the house. She never finds out Henry is not mad at her after she sneaks into the room either, and thinks that is why the General kicked her out. They never reconcile with him, either. Not only is Catherine constantly having weird dreams in both, but there were a couple other scenes as well. When Mrs. Allen and Catherine first go to the Lower Rooms in Bath, Henry brushes past them and accidentally knocks a pin out of Mrs. Allen’s gown. He then happens to meet them by chance. This combines several scenes from the book and I just thought it could not be coincidence that it happened the same way in both. Catherine also burns her copy of The Mysteries of Udolpho in both versions. I thought it was especially odd for Davies to have copied that, since it was really The Monk that was given greater focus in this one.

Oops, 1987

And again in 2007

Burning 1987

Burning 2007

Final Thoughts

I wouldn’t call this adaptation terrible, or anything. It just wasn’t as great as it could have been. It was filmed in Dublin, because I guess they were too cheap to actually go to Bath (yet somehow the 1987 version could afford it? And even Persuasion that was filmed at the same time?) I did like that we got a nice little introduction that was close to what was in the book. There was even an epilogue- but it was so short, blink and you’ll miss it! At least there was no Marchioness, or Roman bath scene, or singing scene! And the laundry lists were really laundry lists- at least Davies got that bit right. Yet he did have Catherine hear about Eleanor’s lover while they were still in Bath, and Henry told her to keep it a secret. Okay…

The movie ends with a shot of the General walking all alone at Northanger while everyone else is happy at Henry and Catherine’s new baby’s christening. Because he was just so evil that they could never talk to him again, I guess. Gah, I think what annoys me so much about this movie is not how “bad” it was, but how bad it was compared to how good it could have been! With such a great cast, it could have been really excellent. Instead it was a disappointment.

My Rating: 7/10

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Northanger Abbey 1987

9 Feb

The year 1987 brought some good things into the world- like me, for instance! It also brought some really crappy things- like a bizarre TV adaptation of Northanger Abbey! I just found it that originally aired only two days after I was born. This was the first adaptation of the book (it’s just not as popular as her others, probably for the same reasons I listed in my review) and it was the only one for another twenty years. It was scripted by Maggie Wadey, who also wrote the 2007 version of Mansfield Park….yeah, there’s your first hint that it isn’t going to be great.

I like to call this version “Northanger Abbey on acid. ” That’s the only explanation I can think of for this tragedy. The creators were high. Catherine, at least, was clearly on hallucinogens to be having all her weird dream sequences. Because this version is just weird! The only good thing I can think of was that it was actually filmed on location in Bath. And…that’s about it. Okay, a couple of the actors were decent (and only a couple!) but that wasn’t enough to save it! The script is horrible, Catherine’s fantasies are horrible, a lot of the acting is horrible, and the music is horrible- weird 80s stuff trying to lend a “spooky” atmosphere. This version also invents a really…odd character, the Marchioness, which I’ll go into more detail about below. Did they not realize that this was supposed to be satire? Because it seemed to take itself seriously- unless we’re all wrong and it actually was supposed to be a parody of the book… then the joke’s on us!

The Characters

Katharine Schlesinger as Catherine Morland

The problem begins here. She was terrible- first of all, the writing for her character was bad. Catherine from the book was innocent and naive and liked to romanticize, but this Catherine really seems to have a hard time separating fantasy from reality. She is constantly having bizarre daydreams of being kidnapped, tied up, and implied to be tortured and raped. She even has a dream about the General before she even meets him or even hears of him! She is beyond stupid and I’m seriously wondering if she cooked some of the wrong mushrooms in her food or something and that’s the reason she’s having such hallucinations. Her acting is also terrible- most of the time, when she doesn’t appear to be in a drug-induced stupor, she just bugs her eyes out. Would Henry Tilney really fall for her? WOULD ANYONE?

Peter Firth as Henry Tilney

This performance upset me even more than Schlesinger, because while I don’t care that much about Catherine in the book, Henry Tilney is one of my favorite Austen characters! He’s just hilarious- I love a guy with a sense of humor. But Peter Firth’s Tilney is not amusing at all (unless you count the singing scene where I was laughing AT him). For one thing, he’s about ten years too old for the part. He’s also a bit on the effeminate side. And his delivery just seemed so fakey to me, with his “posh” accent and rolled r’s. Would Henry really talk like that? I don’t think so.I also don’t remember any mention of him being a clergyman.

Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen

She gave one of the very few good performances in this travesty of an adaptation. She captured Mrs. Allen’s kind but superficial and vapid personality very well. Unfortunately, she looked rather too old for the role. (Isn’t she supposed to be the same age as Mrs. Thorpe?)

Cassie Stuart as Isabella Thorpe

She could have been okay, but she was just so obviously evil and devious that I found it hard to believe that even Catherine would be taken in by her charms. With all the gaudy makeup she (and her mother and sisters) were wearing, they looked almost like prostitutes. Then again, this Catherine went beyond naive to just plain stupid, so maybe she would be fooled after all.

Jonathan Coy as John Thorpe

Like Isabella, he was also too over the top. He was definitely a cad, but he was almost creepy. I thought he was a jerk in the book, sure, but I wasn’t creeped out by him.

Ingrid Lacey as Eleanor Tilney

One if the film’s few high points. She was beautiful, sweet, elegant, and refined, like the Eleanor of the book. I don’t know how she managed to put up with this Catherine, though. When talking about her mother’s death, Catherine actually asks if she saw the “corpse” and how it looked. Way to have some tact! Eleanor took it in stride.

Robert Hardy as General Tilney

The general in the book is supposed to be quite fit and good-looking, despite his age. He was also always Mr. Manners towards Catherine (until he found it she wasn’t an heiress, that is). I love Robert Hardy and all, but there’s no way he would be considered attractive. And he was so gruff throughout pretty much the whole thing that I can’t believe Catherine would want to stay at his house.

Geoffrey Chater as Mr. Allen

He was perfectly adequate in his small role. I don’t have much to say. I’m just trying to spare any readers the pain of seeing the Marchioness.

Greg Hicks as Frederick Tilney

Like Mr. Allen, he was fine in his limited role. You didn’t get to see all that much of him in his scenes with Isabella…Are you sure you want to see the Marchioness? I guess, if you really insist…

Elaine Ives-Cameron as the Marchioness de…whatever

Good heavens! What the hell is this thing? No, it’s not another of Catherine’s hallucinations. She is supposedly General Tilney’s friend and confidante (mistress?) who in this version, is the one to tell him that Catherine is not an heiress. (Where did she find that out, by the way? John Thorpe?) Other than that she serves no purpose but to look scary as hell! What were they thinking with that makeup? And the weird crescent-shaped mole thing by her mouth. I just don’t understand.

More Madness

I really don’t know what they were thinking with this version. They completely missed the point. Was it supposed to be an over the top parody? Because I wasn’t laughing. Northanger Abbey itself also misses the point-in the book it’s supposed to be a nice, modern building. Here it really is a dilapidated old castle, which Catherine and the Allens actually first spot on the way to Bath. The laundry lists Catherine finds hidden in the book really are secret letters- between Eleanor and her beau (only mentioned at the end of the book). Henry and Catherine never make up after he catches her in his mother’s old room. She still believed him to be angry at her, and actually burns her copy of Udolpho. In the book Henry was not still angry and Catherine realized that she was projecting the fantasy of novels onto real life, and that was that. We never see the General consent to Henry and Catherine’s marriage. In the book, he gives in when he finds out that John Thorpe was lying- she was not a rich heiress, but she was not destitute. And it helped that Eleanor’s suitor came into money (aka his brother died, not mentioned because it’s supposed to be a “happy” ending) so they could marry. This movie ends with Henry and Catherine kissing in her yard. From the mood of the scene, it looks at first like it’s another one of her fantasies, but then her brother runs up and you realize it’s real. I actually thought that scene was okay, but this adaptation was still just crap.

I think the worst scene of all was the singing scene. The Tilneys, Catherine, and the Marchioness watch Henry and some girl (the Marchioness’s daughter? She must be, but she’s normal-looking so I couldn’t tell) sing and perform some songs. The girl is okay, but Henry’s singing is dreadful! Was that really Peter Firth? Wasn’t he embarrassed? During this performance, a little page boy leads Catherine outside and does cartwheels for her while she watches with a glazed expression, as if in a drug-induced stupor. Then it turns out to be another dream. I guess Henry’s singing was so awful she zoned out!

My ears!

That was the only scene I laughed at. It didn’t seem like it was meant to be funny, unfortunately. I’d say watch this movie if you really want…but be warned. And only buy it if you want to have a complete collection. That’s why I did.

My Rating: 3/10

Northanger Abbey Book Thoughts

8 Feb

Ah, Northanger Abbey, without a doubt my least favorite Jane Austen novel. For the longest time I thought Sense and Sensibility was the worst, until I reread them all last year and wondered just what the hell I was thinking all those years.

Don’t get me wrong, I think NA is really funny and I absolutely adore Henry Tilney (one of my top 3 Austen heroes!) but compared to her others, this novel is weak. It was her first novel sold to a publisher, in 1803, under the title Susan. For some reason, the publisher sat on it for years until her brother bought it back. I don’t think it was revised at all before she died- it was published posthumously with Persuasion. It’s very different in tone from all her other novels. It still shows glimpses of her wit and the dramatic ironies and everything, but it’s closer to a spoof of the popular Gothic novels of the day than anything else. The romance is pretty lacking (again, spoofing the Gothic novels)- Henry only falls for Catherine because he realized she loved him!

I don’t want anyone to think I don’t like this book- I do! It has comedy in spades. It just lacks the depth of all her other works.

My Rating: 7/10

Georgette Heyer- The Convenient Marriage, April Lady, The Talisman Ring

2 Feb

The Convenient Marriage- This book looked like it was going to be charming in the first couple of chapters. Lord Rule and Horry’s meeting was a really humorous and delightful scene. Unfortunately, once it got underway, I quickly lost interest. Horry’s stammer was really annoying to read and I found her naivete and stupidity astounding! This was my first Heyer that followed a married couple and needless to say it didn’t leave a very good impression. 6/10

April Lady- What a choice to follow up with! This was very similar to The Convenient Marriage- a married couple love each other but each think the other doesn’t because of a misunderstanding. Add to that an annoying girl (Letty) and a well-meaning but good for nothing brother character and you get April Lady. Sheesh, why couldn’t Nell and Cardross, or Horry and Rule, just talk out their problems? I know there would be no book if that happened but I wasn’t a big fan of either book so there would be no complaints from me there. Other characters repeatedly tell Nell in this one that her husband loves her and that she should just tell him the truth. I don’t think anyone reassured Horry like that (but I don’t remember) so that makes Nell even stupider. Not to mention that they’ve already been married nearly a year! How dense are these girls? I like her stories that feature more intelligent heroines. 6/10

The Talisman Ring- This one was MUCH better. It’s set pre-Regency and combines mystery/adventure with romance. It’s hilariously funny and almost even a spoof of the genre. I thought I would find Ludovic and Eustacie, the secondary couple, annoying, but they actually made me laugh! I simply adored Sir Tristram and Sarah was really a dear. She was craving adventure and excitement but underneath she was still sensible. I loved the story, I loved the humor, I loved the characters…this probably goes into my top favorite Heyer books! 10/10

Modern Emmas- Clueless and Aisha

2 Feb

I’ve really been procrastinating on finishing up my Emma adaptation reviews, I know. I wasn’t sure if I should review these two modern versions or not. For one thing, though I found both enjoyable, I’m not the biggest fan. And I don’t have a copy of either right now to rewatch and take screencaps from. (I did buy Aisha on DVD but lent it to a friend and haven’t gotten it back yet!). But I really want to get Jane Austen over with so I don’t forget even more, so I decided to just go from memory! I’ll try the best I can.

Clueless (1995) stars Alicia Silverstone as Cher Horowitz. Like Emma, she is rich and lives with her single father (IIRC, her mother died during plastic surgery, but I may be wrong). Here she is only 15 and already has her own car (before she even has a license!) and spends most of her time with her best friend, Dionne (no book equivalent). The Mr. Knightley character is played by her ex step-brother, Josh, played by Paul Rudd. The movie loosely follows a lot of  Emma‘s plotlines. Cher hooks up two of her teachers and from there gets it into her head to be a matchmaker. She decides to give this version’s Harriet Smith, new girl Tai (Brittany Murphy), a makeover and to hook her up with Elton. She convinces Tai that her crush, stoner Travis, is no good. Things backfire for her when her matchmaking plans not only fail but Tai eclipses her as the most popular girl. She goes after Christian (Frank Churchill), and although he’s not a cad like Frank in the book, he has other reasons for not going for Cher.

Some people think Clueless is the best adaptation of Emma, but I’d have to disagree. I did quite enjoy it and even used to watch the TV spinoff…I was in grade school, okay! I blame this movie for popularizing Valley Girl speak throughout the country, but that’s another story.  I really liked the characters of Cher and Josh and their sibling-esque rivalry that blossomed into love and a lot of the parallels with the book were funny, but this isn’t one of my favorite movies or even adaptations. I found many of the characters just annoying and not charming at all. I also think this movie treated some inappropriate behaviors too lightly. Maybe I’m just too traditional, but all of the references to sex and pot smoking (Cher disapproves of Travis constantly being stoned but feels no qualms about occasionally smoking a joint at a party) made me a bit uncomfortable. Cher also seemed to think she was the last virgin left at her high school, and tried miserably to seduce Christian. Tai, despite being a “loser”, oddly has had plenty of sexual experience. The characters were only 15 years old, for Christ’s sake! I suppose stuff like this is more realistic (or even not realistic enough!) but part of the reason I watch period films is to escape from reality. I suppose that’s why this updated version bothered me a bit. My Rating: 7/10.

Aisha, which just came out last summer, is Bollywood’s version of a modern Emma. Set in the high society of Delhi, it follows Aisha in her misguided matchmaking attempts. Like Emma and Cher, Aisha is a spoiled rich girl who means well but is really clueless. This one follows the book a little more closely than Clueless did and includes more characters, like the John Knightleys and Jane Fairfax (Aarti). Here, the Miss Taylor character is Aisha’s aunt. This version’s Knightley (Arjun) is still her childhood friend and brother-in-law’s brother, but younger this time. Emma dislikes Aarti, his colleague from America, but she doesn’t realize it’s because she’s jealous. Dhruv (Frank Churchill) is her new uncle’s son and they flirt for a little bit but she’s just not that into him so he goes for Aarti instead. There is an Elton character, but he’s not a pompous jerk at all, just a bit dorky.

I thought this version borrowed too many elements from Clueless rather than Emma. Maybe that’s inevitable in a modern setting, but I’m not sure. Aisha has a best friend, Pinky, who’s only equivalent is Dionne. She disapproves of Pinky’s love interest (I won’t give away who it is!), like Cher did to Dionne. Like Cher, Aisha loves to shop till she drops. The Harriet Smith character, Shefali, comes from out of town and Aisha gives her a makeover….sounds pretty familiar! Emma never gave Harriet any sort of makeover. She liked Harriet because she was very pretty and sweet already. I dunno, maybe I’m reading too much into it.

For anyone hesitant about seeing this film because they don’t like Bollywood, I just want to say- don’t let that stop you. This movie is very, very Westernized. At least half the dialogue is in English, possibly a bit more. There are some “musical” scenes but the music is Western-style, not the typical Bollywood singing. The characters don’t break into song either- rather the music highlights what’s going on onscreen. These characters behave very much like rich Westerners would (I’ve read criticisms that it was trying too hard to be American, even) and there are even a couple kissing scenes.

I thought this was a good movie, but not great. The production values were obviously very high- everything looked great. Unfortunately, I think that was part of the problem- they focused too much on style over substance. The script needed a bit of work. The whole Jane/Frank story was handled very poorly in particular. Still, it was a fun movie, even though, like Clueless, it’s not going to go down as one of my favorites. My Rating: 6/10