Northanger Abbey (2007)

Feild and Jones in Northanger Abbey
Felicity Jones (Catherine), JJ Feild (Henry), Carey Mulligan (Isabella)

Directed by Jon Jones; Screenplay by Andrew Davies

Plot: A young lady who loves novels lets her imagination run away with her, risking her chance at happiness. But an lovely Jane Austen ending ensues.

What a treat! As opposed to the rather pointless remake of Persuasion that aired Sunday before last, this new adaptation of Northanger Abbey was delicious, laugh-out-loud funny, and perfectly romantic.

Felicity Jones portrayed Catherine as clever but entirely wrapped within her imagination. Although she's wide-eyed and eager for all things new, her sense of goodness and sweetness never steer her too far from what's right. I credit Jones with the ability to pull this off without being entirely too cute.

I enjoyed the playful way they portrayed her obsession with lurid tales: dreams in which (initially) faceless villains and heroes assume the features of people she knows. Her dreams became overtly sexual as her fascination with Henry progressed. Andrew Davies has gone on record as trying to portray his Austen-adapted characters as sexual beings--within the strict confines of the time periods--and he achieved it well here.

Again, my knowledge of Austen outside of the big three (P&P, S&S, Emma) is rusty. I watched this story unfold with fresh eyes, enjoying every minute. While our introduction to Henry is amiable and charming, could he be trusted? You never can tell with amiable and charming folks in Austen books. Willoughby, anyone? Or Wickham? Cads! But Henry was a perfect dollfacelovelyboy. For being such an affable chap, newcomer JJ Feild proved able to turn on the drama during the climactic confrontation between Henry and Catherine about his father. Really good. Really sigh-worthy.

Carey Mulligan as Sally SparrowThe third major player in this adaptation was Carey Mulligan as Catherine's scheming friend, Isabella. I adored Mulligan's performances as Ada Clare in Bleak House and as Sally Sparrow in the fantastic Doctor Who episode "Blink." She is beautiful and sweetly charismatic, but her intelligence shines through. Always watching, always thinking, she seems to play women on the verge of their greatest moments. I can't wait for her to get the right role--something meaty and strong and prominent--and then she'll be superhuge. Or she'll just be like Justine Waddell (Wives and Daughters), a personal favorite who no one else knows. Anyway...dang, her Isabella was a conniving bitch. Yay for the versatility of a wonderful actress!

Finally, undying props to Andrew Davies, whose brain should be kept active forever so he can eventually adapt all great works of literature for the screen. He retained the light, ironic flavor for Austen's language, giving the characters subtlety and depth.

Austen: To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of twenty-six and eighteen is to do pretty well; and professing myself moreover convinced that the general's unjust interference, so far from being really injurious to their felicity, was perhaps rather conducive to it, by improving their knowledge of each other, and adding strength to their attachment, I leave it to be settled, by whomsoever it may concern, whether the tendency of this work be altogether to recommend parental tyranny, or reward filial disobedience.

Davies: To begin perfect happiness at the respective ages of 26 and 18 is to do pretty well. Catherine and Henry were married, and in due course the joys of wedding gave way to the blessing of a christening. The bells rang and everyone smiled. No one more than so than Eleanor, who's beloved's sudden ascension to title and fortune finally allowed them to marry. I leave it to be settled whether the tendency of this story be to recommend parental tyranny or to reward filial disobedience.

It says what it needs to for modern ears and for the relative brevity of television, but it is oh-so-true to the spirit of the original. Gosh, he's good.

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