Northanger Abbey was the first Jane Austen novel I ever read. It’s not her best known or most respected, but I’ve always loved it. It’s a fun parody of the gothic novels that were so popular in Austen’s time and gave rise to books such as Rebecca, Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. I’ve never seen a film adaptation of Northanger Abbey, and although I tried not to get my hopes up I knew that the film that just showed on Masterpiece Theater was written by Andrew Davies (who also wrote the A&E Pride & Prejudice miniseries), so I did have some expectations. I was disappointed again.

As with Persuasion last week, the plot felt rushed, but at least the characters were more accurately portrayed by the actors. Felicity Jones made a very good Catherine Morland, and J.J. Feild a charming Henry Tilney. The secondary characters were mostly good as well. There were some nice creative touches: I have no problems with the sequences that depicted Catherine’s overwrought imaginings and thought they were a clever way to develop that aspect of her character. But again I have to take exception to changes that I thought were unnecessary. A lot of the dialog was re-written and plot points changed in ways that subtly altered, and I think, diminished the characters. I imagine the writer felt that Catherine’s extreme innocence would make her less appealing to modern audiences, but the central conceit of the plot depends on her being very innocent and impressionable, and I don’t think that was believable in this production.

This film has one advantage in that I don’t have the ability to compare it to a stronger production, but I still feel a little let down and think it could have been much better. I have higher hopes for Mansfield Park next week, as it’s my least favorite of Austen’s novels and therefore I will probably be much less critical (no promises, though).

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