“And what's romance? Usually, a nice little tale where you have everything as you like it, where rain never wets your jacket and gnats never bite your nose, and it's always daisy-time.” - D.H. Lawrence
Last weekend we watched a good little film that will appeal to all costume drama fans, and perhaps to those enamoured of the literature of Jane Austen. The film is a typical English production filmed in locations that are genuine and whose costumes, props, feel and look have been carefully curated so that the illusion of the period has been quite faithfully reproduced. Sure enough the film is very lightweight but quite a lot of Austen’s wit and social criticism still manages to come across and overall the whole is enjoyable and vivacious.
The film is a 2007 TV production of the Jane Austen novel “Northanger Abbey” directed by Jon Jones, starring Felicity Jones, JJ Feild, Carey Mulligan, Catherine Walker and Liam Cunningham. Andrew Davies wrote the screenplay based on Austen’s novel, and as is the case with most of these adaptations from novel to screen, (by necessity), quite a lot has been lost. However, this talented screenwriter has done much to preserve the essence of the original and translate faithfully some of the main points that Austen wishes to make. There is a lot of the humour and wry observations of the novel that have been transferred to the screen also.
For those unfamiliar with the Austen novel, the plot revolves around Catherine Morland (Jones), a young lady of quite modest means who is given the opportunity to stay in Bath with her well-off relatives, the childless Allen family. She is intent on living high adventure of the type she has been reading about in the romantic gothic novels fashionable at the time. When she is introduced to society, she meets Isabella Thorpe (Mulligan) and her brother John (Beck), a good friend of her own brother, James (O’Connor). Isabella and John are pleasant, shallow and intent on having a good time as well as finding partners with some money in the bank… Catherine also meets Henry Tilney (Feild), a handsome young man from a good family and his sister, Eleanor (Walker). Invited to visit the Tilney estate, Northanger Abbey, by General Tilney (Cunningham), who believes her to be an heiress, she has thoughts of romance but soon learns that status, class and money are all equally important when it comes to romance.
The film was fun to watch and quite amusing, although purists will object to significant portions of the book being cut, a lot of the witty dialogue disappearing and the ending being rather quickly precipitated upon the viewer, with the character of General Tilney being made thoroughly villainous, whereas in Austen’s novel he does redeem himself. The fantasy sequences were quite effective, although some of the sexual innuendoes were a little out of place, especially if one considers Austen’s refined and restrained approach to such matters.
It is different reading a book (especially one as well known and loved as this) and then watching a film of it. In such situations I find that when I watch the film, I try to divorce myself from the source novel and simply judge the film on its own merits. After watching and for the purposes of review I may then compare it to the novel, but ultimately one has to ask oneself: “Was the movie good fun to watch? Was it entertaining? Was it cinematic enough? Was it well acted? Was it well directed? Were the cinematography, music, props, settings good enough?” And if the majority of responses are affirmative, the film fulfilled its purpose, whether or not it was a faithful and slavish adaptation of the novel.
We enjoyed the film as a film and it was quite amusing and entertaining. We recommend it to anyone who enjoys such period dramas. The standard of production was high, the acting excellent, the script and direction very good. Quite a lot more detail could have been added to keep the purists happy, but if one approaches the film as an entertainment in its own right rather than see it as a mirror of the novel, one should be pleased enough with this film.