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.
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.
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.
And again in 2007
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