Part V: Northanger Abbey, con’td.
I just finished watching NA07. It was written by Andrew Davies and stars Felicity Jones as Catherine, JJ Feild as Henry, Carey Mulligan as Isabella and Sylvestra LeTouzel as Mrs. Allen. I have seen this adaptation once or twice in the past, and distinctly remember not loving it. This is the original ITV production, not the version that was shown in North America on PBS. I never actually watched the PBS version, so I cannot say for certain which scenes are missing, but I do know from people who have seen both that there were definitely some scenes cut.
So, without further ado, here are the notes I took while watching it:
The music for the opening credits is actually reminiscent of “Hedwig’s Theme” from Harry Potter. I never noticed that before. It’s odd, but I don’t dislike it. Perhaps it’s because the book is about a girl who craves adventure. Who knows.
We see the Morland family getting larger by the year, and a narrator tells us what Austen does — that Catherine was born to be a heroine, despite appearances. The Allens are much younger here than they were in NA86, and that works so much better for me. I’d never pictured them to be quite as old as they were in NA86. Sylvestra LeTouzel has aged quite nicely, and I like her as the flighty Mrs. Allen.
Catherine reads quite a bit in these early scenes, but the book is not Udolpho. We see her daydreaming during her reading and, frankly, these daydreams are a little more racy than I would expect from a girl who is a total innocent.
Alas, Bath is played by Dublin. I haven’t been to Bath in more than 10 years, and I have never been to Dublin, but I do know that I am not looking at Bath. I’ve never heard why they chose not to film in Bath. If the very low-budget NA86 could do it, why not this one?
The scene where Mrs. Allen is jockeying for position in the tea room is very funny. Sylvestra LeTouzel is no longer quiet little Fanny Price.
We meet Henry. Peter Firth’s Henry was creepy, but (so far, at least) Feild is much better. You can see the twinkle in his eye when he talks muslin with Mrs. Allen.
During the Assembly, we see a blond man staring at Catherine. He stares at her in the tea room, and again while she is dancing with Henry. If you haven’t seen this adaptation, you don’t know who he is, but I do, and I don’t like it.
After the Assembly, Catherine writes in her journal, and goes to bed. She then has another dream/fantasy that is much too racy for a girl like her. She sees Henry duel for her, and she leans against a tree in a very low-cut nightgown (not the one she was wearing while she wrote in her journal) and looks as if she’s having an orgasm. I really don’t think this is very appropriate. But it’s Andrew Davies, so I can’t be too surprised.
Now we meet Mrs. Thorpe and the Misses Thorpe. I recognize Isabella from the tea room, where she sat with the man who stared at Catherine, and can hardly believe that this is the same actress who played sweet, silly little Kitty Bennet in P&P05 just 2 years earlier. She’s certainly grown up. The baby fat is gone and she’s now quite stunning. But Isabella Thorpe is a very, very different character than Kitty Bennet. She’s not silly and she’s certainly not sweet.
I like that they kept the bit from the book where Isabella pretends to be offended by the two young men who want to flirt with her. I also like how we see just how different Isabella is from Catherine. Catherine wears very demure clothing — she still looks like a little girl at times — but Isabella is far more worldly. Granted, her dresses are too low-cut for daytime, but even if they weren’t, one would know immediately that this is not a naive young girl.
Well, well, well. It turns out that John Thorpe is the one who was staring at Catherine at the Assembly Hall. I’m really not sure why Davies did that, and I don’t really like it.
Unfortunately, Eleanor Tilney is several years too old for the part (Catherine Walker was 32 in 2007) and too old to be completely believable as an intimate friend of someone as young as Catherine, but she is very elegant and very lovely, just as I’ve always imagined the character to be. Her father’s hair is pretty awful, which is surprising given how gorgeous the other hair, clothing and makeup are.
I like the scene where John Thorpe lies to Catherine and tells her they are going to Blaize Castle. Except when he says “damn it.” I don’t think even John Thorpe would speak that way before a young lady.
One of the things I dislike most about this adaptation is that Davies has Catherine read The Monk. It is a truly “horrid” book, and is really not something that a girl like Catherine would choose to read.
We see John Thorpe lie to General Tilney about Catherine’s situation in life, and then it is he who introduces Catherine to the General. That’s just strange.
Then, during their walk in the woods, we get to meet the man Eleanor is in love with, and Henry asks Catherine not to talk about it at all. That’s not from the book either, and seems to me to be another way for Andrew Davies to spoil plot twists.
And then there’s the bathtub scene that I believe was removed from the PBS airing. For those who have only seen the PBS version, Catherine is in a bathtub, and Felicity Jones is doing a voiceover of a reading of The Monk. Catherine starts to daydream. The walls disappear, her bathtub is out of doors (what is this, a Cialis commercial???)., and Henry shows up, dressed as a clergyman, leering at her. Catherine is embarrassed, and he tells her not to be ashamed because it’s all God’s creation. He asks her to stand up. She’s nude, but we only see her from the back. And then she wakes up. It’s entirely inappropriate, but it’s not surprising, given who wrote the script.
The scene where James and Isabella announce their engagement is also rather well done. I liked how John Thorpe discombobulates Catherine, thereby making it possible for him to claim later that she led him on.
We meet Captain Tilney. He’s played by someone named Mark Dymond. His picture at IMDb isn’t gorgeous, but he sure is in full uniform (which is, alas, historically inaccurate – military men did not wear their uniforms when not on duty). But, since he is gorgeous here, I can certainly understand why the fickle Isabella has a hard time turning him down. He does superior and bored very well.
At that same ball, Henry tells Catherine that he considers John Thorpe to be a rival. I’m not sure I like that.
I love the music at all of the dances. It’s just beautiful and almost makes me wish I could learn to dance like that.
Catherine has another dream. This time, Isabella is in bed, panting, while Captain Tilney looks down on her. He looks over at Catherine and smiles a very evil, very sexy smile. Again, it works if you’re an experienced adult, but not an innocent, naïve girl.
I am more and more impressed with Carey Mulligan. She was a lovely, sweet, easily led Kitty Bennet, and is also an outstanding selfish, petulant, manipulative Isabella Thorpe. I hope to get to see her in some other films along the way. I really like how she tells Catherine she’s upset about not being able to marry right away, and that she’d be happy with £50 per year. I don’t believe her for a second, but I can understand who someone like Catherine could. She’s very good.
The General is very creepy. It would be hard for me to stay in the same house with him, no matter how much I loved his son.
The interior of the house is quite lovely. It is as I imagined it from the book. The exterior of the house is played by Lismore Castle in County Waterford, Ireland, but I can not be sure that the interior is, too. Here are some pictures of the actual castle. In the dining room, there is a fireplace with a motto in Latin: Fortis Cadere Cedere Non Potest. In English, this means “A brave man may fall, but not yield.” This is, apparently, not the motto of the Lismores (their motto was Fidus et audax [Faithful and courageous]), so the interiors of Northanger Abbey may not have been filmed at this castle. This is the motto of the Earls of Drogheda, but I cannot find anything that would tell me that the interiors were not at Lismore.
Why would the maid take Catherine to the door of her room, hand her the only candle and then leave? How is she to get around the house? It’s pitch dark, for goodness’ sake!
Now this is very strange. Henry invites Catherine to Woodston while the General is in London, and the two of them ride there alone. This is just wrong.
OK, having Henry tell Catherine that she should write a book called Northanger Abbey is just ridiculous, and beneath even Andrew Davies.
The way they put Mrs. Tilney’s room all the way over in a separate tower of the house makes me think of Bertha in Jane Eyre. It’s just silly.
Mrs. Tilney’s room looks like no one’s been near it in years. But, if Henry manages to get there on this particular day, isn’t it likely that he’s been there before, so the room wouldn’t look quite so ignored?
I actually like the scene where Henry confronts Catherine in his mother’s room. I thought it was well done.
OK, this is far and away the worst part of the movie. I’m going to say this once, and once only: ISABELLA AND CAPTAIN TILNEY NEVER SLEPT TOGETHER. I don’t give a rodent’s posterior what Andrew Davies thinks but, while Isabella may be a lot of not-so-good things, stupid isn’t one of them. And she knows full well it would be stupid to sleep with Captain Tilney. She may be a flirt and a tease, but she’s not stupid enough to give away the only thing of value she has: her virtue. It’s not even remotely possible to infer this from the text. Jane Austen came right out and told us when people were having sex – we know for a fact that Lydia and Wickham were; we know that Maria and Henry Crawford were; we know that Willoughby and Eliza did. And, just as we know that these people did have sex, we know that Isabella and the Captain did not. It’s the single worst thing about this adaptation.
I’m not sure why they have Catherine leaving in the middle of the night, but it’s not as if it’s hard to have her do what she did in the book – leave at 6 a.m. And it’s also stupid for Catherine to say she deserves to be treated so shabbily. Catherine is not very bright, but she’s not quite that stupid.
I’m very proud of Catherine for burning Udolpho. I tried reading it, and forced myself to get halfway through before putting down with no regrets. It’s awful.
The kiss at the end is lovely, but the rest of the ending is too abrupt. Austen gave us 2 full chapters of an ending, and we get maybe 2 minutes. I am not pleased.
Overall, it’s not as bad as I remembered. It’s not great, but it’s not a stinker the way NA86 is. I know that’s faint praise, but it’s true. I disliked the fantasy sequences because they really are far too racy for a girl like Catherine. I don’t like the fact that she reads The Monk and I really, REALLY hate that Davies has Isabella sleeping with Captain Tilney. So, I guess I’ll just say it’s mediocre. Sad, isn’t it?