Jane Austen goes Gothic in this darkly dramatic rendering of her Northanger Abbey, a novel that wasn't published until after her early and sudden death. Austen pokes fun at her peers in this story, in which her heroine, C... more »atherine Morland (Katharine Schlesinger), is hopelessly addicted to macabre romance novels that wreak havoc on her imagination. She comes from a large, but loving family, and she's taken, as a companion, to the decadent society of Bath. There, she meets the duplicitous Thorpe siblings, Isabella (Cassie Stuart) and John (Jonathan Coy), and the kindly Tilney sister and brother, Eleanor (Ingrid Lacey) and Henry (Peter Firth). The Tilneys also have an elder brother, the snobbish soldier Frederick (Greg Hicks), and an oddly eerie father, General Tilney (Robert Hardy). Needless to say, all this provides plenty of fodder for fantasies and Catherine comes up with many, even imagining all sorts of evils on a visit to the Tilney family home, Northanger Abbey. The soundtrack is more than a little melodramatic, but it's best to think of it as a humorous touch rather than a serious, punctuating one. --N.F. Mendoza« less
"I'm not certain why this movie is so low-rated. Is it a movie in the same manner as "Sense and Sensibility" and "Pride and Prejudice"? No. Is it a good movie? Yes. The movie follows young Catherine Morland, an addict of early gothic novels, with a vivid imagination. When the kindly, wealthy, childless Allens take her on a trip with them to Bath, Catherine is overjoyed. She soon befriends gushing Isabella Thorpe and her vulgar brother John, who appear to be fortune-hunters. Catherine also befriends the kindly, wealthy Tilney brother and sister, Eleanor and Henry. There is also a brother, Frederick (who is VERY interested in the newly-engaged Isabella) and their eerie, falsely-enthusiastic father General Tilney.Eleanor invites Catherine to their eerie family estate, Northanger Abbey. In the mysterious castlelike building, with a death harkening back many years, Catherine's imagination soon disrupts reality, and her slowly growing affection for Henry.I must contradict the people who said that you need to read the book to understand the movie: I haven't, and I did. This movie contains the staples often found in a Jane Austen story: witty repartee, a flurry of manners and morals, dancing and dresses, creeps and nice people, and a chastely tense romance wherein at least one of the people involved must learn a lesson. While in "Pride" it was learning about pride and prejudice, and in "Emma" it was meddling; in this particular movie, it is learning about distinguishing reality from fantasy.Katherine Schlesinger is perfect as Catherine Morland, smaller and wider-eyed than the usual blonde girls in this film. Peter Firth is sexy and sweet as Henry Tilney, who occasionally launches into monologues that both insult and compliment ("She is a disgrace to her sex... and it is a quality I will be sad to see her lose") and Ingrid Lacey is delightful as the haunted Eleanor Tilney. Cassie Stuart is good as gushy fortune-hunter Isabella Thorpe, whose constant effusion hides a mercenary little excuse for a soul; Jonathan Coy is also good, in his relatively brief role, as the rotten John Thorpe.This movie is filmed in a slightly different manner than most Jane Austen films. Reality is interspersed with Gothic fantasies and nightmares of Catherine's; however, this will be entertaining if you have even a passing knowledge of books like the "Mysteries of Udolpho." The soundtrack is relentlessly, over-the-top Gothic in a way that is downright funny. We also get to see more of Bath than in movies like "Persuasion"--I thought those gardens were extremely pretty. The movie is shot in a misty sort of way, with looming decaying buildings and white-clad heroines--it seems to be half spoof, half serious story. And as Jane Austen was a master of satire, I imagine she'd be highly amused.I'm a little surprised that the travesty of Mansfield Park is rated higher than this (watch the BBC version, where they care about the original story) as this is a darn good movie. It's not exactly like Emma, Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility; however, it's still very good."
An unusual offering from the BBC - but okay.
Gwyn Gwyrdd | USA | 03/12/2003
(3 out of 5 stars)
"Though below the standard of any other Austen film I've seen (I haven't yet seen Persuasion) in terms of quality and acting, this film version of Northanger Abbey is strangely satisfying - or perhaps I should say - not completely dissatisfying. After hearing so many terrible things said of the music and dream sequences I was expecting something far worse - something entirely laughable. What I've found is that with such low expectations the film did alright. Before one watches or reads Northanger Abbey it is almost vital that one reads Anne Radcliffe's masterpiece, The Mysteries of Udolpho. The reason for this is that NA is consistently referring to the book and is often a direct parody. What was obvious from this film, is that the filmakers had never read Udolpho and didn't understand Austen's jokes. What made it quite clear that Udolpho had not been read were the strange fantasy sequences, as they did not have anything to do with the book or Radcliffe's style at all. What is portrayed in the film is far more graphic and horrific than the book Catherine makes reference to. As a result, the fantasy sequences are over the top and even make Catherine seem a bit mashochistic, which is completely different from Austen's intent. If you haven't read Udolpho, you shouldn't notice these issues at all, however if you have, the filmmaker's approach will seem rather bizarre.Aside from that, one of my main complaintd is that the music does not fit the film whatsoever and did at times become a distraction. The chanting celtic sounding voice may have sounded better without the synthesizers and St. Elmo's Fire saxophone playing with it. The rock guitar that occasionally flared up was much easier to stomach than the lusty saxophone that played at the most unusual times. On top of this, there were some unnecessary changes made to explain the character of Major Tilney and further create the Gothic suspicions that Catherine harbors. I thought this actually lent her actions more credence instead of making them more ridiculous (and hilariously stupid) as they are in the book. The filmaker's need to validate Catherine in this way really removed hilarity from many of the greatest scenes. It was strange to see the BBC and A&E of all people, do this to a piece of literature. However, the changes were not so strong as to entirely change the story. Casting also plays a key role in the quality of this film. Isabella is twice as annoying, maybe thrice, as in the book. The actress who plays her smiles in such a large and ghastly way that her attractiveness to men is entirely unbelievable. Her brother, Catherine's unwelcome courter, is better cast, however the scriptwriters portray him as more of a scary abuser than an awkward baffoon as he is supposed to be. Mr. Tilney, our hero, is at times perfect in his role, and then awkward, but in the most important moments, pulls off his character perfectly. Northanger Abbey itself is an historical inaccuracy, as they use a castle - and assume we don't know what an Abbey is. Major Tilney is perfect, and one of the better actors in the film. However, it is Catherine herself that made the film worth watching for me. She was the embodiment of everything Austen described her to be and I can't imagine another actress in the role who could have done better. She had the awkwardness of Catherine, yet at times could be unbelievably beautiful, and at all times maintained the innocence you would expect her to have. I would very much like to see a remake with this same girl in the role, however, I'm sure she's much older now.Oh, and one more thing, this may be the only film in which the filmmaker's were ever allowed to use the actual waters at bath built originally by the Romans. It is remarkable to see how they were used. Men and women actually climbed into the waters fully clothed, hats and all, and stood around and talked. In this film, the showed the actors with some sort of floating plate tied around their necks. It looked like the plate was covered with flowers or something that was possibly an aromatherapy type treatment. Very interesting for history buffs and likely never to be done again.In summary, this film is worth watching if you are a true Austen fan. However, if you aren't, the whole thing may come off as some strange Saturday afternoon made for tv movie gone wrong. If you aren't familiar with Jane Austen or films of her books, don't start with this one. However, if you are getting to the bottom of the pile for Austen things to read or watch, this is worth the effort."
WARNING: Read the book first!
lauryl | 01/07/2000
(2 out of 5 stars)
"I made the very large mistake of watching this adaptation of Northanger Abbey BEFORE I read Jane Austen's beloved book! Never again shall I do anything so foolish . . . (please ignore my silly review further down- drat these non-deletable forms!).Being a very great Austen fan, I came across the 1979 BBC version of Northanger Abbey at my local library and promptly snatched it up. I had not yet read the book, and in my still fairly immature stages of Austen-mania, did not really know how to judge such a film. I didn't know yet that JA wrote Northanger Abbey as a satire on the gothic novels of the day, so I missed much of the intentions of the novel (as, I must say, did the screen-writer!). Now that I have read Northanger Abbey (more than once) and come to regard it as my favorite novel second only to Pride and Prejudice, I find myself greatly annoyed by the unreasonable and unwanted changes that were made between the book and the movie.The roles of Henry Tilney and Catherine Moreland were played quite well by Peter Firth, and Katherine Schlessinger, respectively. Ms. Schlessinger especially deserves kudos for taking on the role and preserving the "innocent, wide-eyed" look that one would imagine for Catherine Moreland. This film has been a subject of great debate among people who love the story, for, as they claim, is does do a fair job of butchering the story. However, all in all, the basic plot line is maintained, and the costuming and scenery are well represented. Many well-known "true brit" actors are in the cast, including Robert Hardy (Sir John Middleton in Sense and Sensibility) as General Tilney, Googie Withers as Mrs. Allen, and Cassie Stewart as Isabella Thorpe. Other characters that are exceptionally portrayed are Eleanor Tilney & Captain Tilney. James Moreland and John Thorpe don't seem to fit the part, but that is probably more the fault of the script writers than the actors. The same would be case for Henry Tilney, who is portrayed as a snuff-sniffing, cane-twirling "Mama's boy" type, as opposed to the gorgeous, swashbuckling hero that we read about in the story. Another sad thing is that the movie doesn't even mention the fact of his being a clergyman, which, in my humble opinion, is one of the qualities that makes him so very endearing! On the other hand, if one is not comparing Peter Firth's portrayal of Henry Tilney to the real Henry Tilney, his character can be quite pleasing. To be sure, he does not utter some of Henry's most endearing lines (journals, etc.), but other good lines were created for him, and he delivers his lines with feeling and animation. Some of his "looks" are particularly humorous and exactly how one could imagine Henry looking! My objections to this film are many, simply because there were many added and unnessesary scenes. First of all, the presence of General Tilney's "friend and confidante", The Marchioness. Her character is utterly strange and completely out of place. I cannot account for how she was created or the rational for settling her in this film. Secondly, the music is very "eighties", featuring new-age sounds, chanting voices, and a type of "nighclub" percussion effect. It doesn't fit the movie at all (on the other hand, maybe it DOES fit the movie, just not the story?). Another item to mention would be the strange "flashback" sequences, which are actually supposed to be Catherine's "flights of fancy"-her imaginings and dreams. Some of them are a bit creepy (Mrs. Allen poking a needle through her finger? General Tilney washing his hands in a basin of blood? Give me a break!), yet silly to the point of being boring and stupid. They contribute to the film moving along way, way too slowly. Then there is the issue of Eleanor Tilney having a secret lover, which seems quite out-of-character for her, and happens to be another addition of the screen-writers which I positively can make no sense of. Here's yet another. . . John Thorpe, who is really supposed to be just a foolish, not-so-bright young man, is portrayed as a scemeing, conniving, deceitful, and wicked fellow. I understand that the screenwriter may have wanted a rake as in Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility, but it really wasn't necessary.The proposal scene in the end could either melt your heart or make you absolutely hate the film and never want to see it again. Again, it doesn't fit the story, and certainly does not seem like a scene that JA would have written! However, if you have always longed to know more about the proposal (which JA actually "leaves out" of the story), and you're a true romantic--one who adores white horses, men riding out of the mist, and strange night-club music in the background, than you'll love it. For your benefit (and not actually quoted directly, but just pulled from my memory), here are the lines that Henry speaks as he approaches Catherine. . . Henry: "Miss Moreland, do not be afraid. I promise not to oppress you with too much remorse or too much passion. . . though since you left us, the white rose bushes died of grief. Catherine, are you still a disgrace to your sex? Does your face betray all that your heart feels, or may I hope that it holds a secret? You know that I do not need my father's permission to marry?" Catherine: "But he knows you are here?" Henry: "Yes" They kiss. Okay, there you have it. Somewhat sappy, somewhat sweet. I loved it the first time I saw the film-in fact, I rewound that particular part about a dozen times. The kiss is pretty beautiful, but I still can't get over the fact that the scene doesn't fit the story. Alas and alack! Well, I have likes, I have dislikes. Notwithstanding the films' obvious problems, I still enjoy watching it very occasionally. However, I am greatly looking forward to the new film which Andrew Davies is in the process of writing, and which should hopefully be finished in the year 2000!"
Older and Wiser
Gwen Kramer | Sunny and not-so-sunny California | 12/06/1999
(1 out of 5 stars)
"After having seen Mansfield Park (80's version) the latest Pride and Prejudice and Sense & Sensibilty we Austen fans were under the naive notion that all adaptations of the authors work were as wonderful. Therefore, we had no compunctions about laying out $ to purchase this video.Good heavens! If only we had known! We should have guessed we were in trouble with the tasteless "gothic scenes" which open the movie. But like fools we plodded on. Indication number two came in the form of the female leads. They looked like they were refugees from Simi Valley! The young actresses were either badly directed or actually were from the Valley or the English equivelant.Indication number three was the music. The other Austen adaptations featured lively piano pieces or suitably tear-jerking melodies. This soundtrack seems to be ripped off from the Young and the Restless. (Note to aspiring soundtrack composers: there were no saxaphones in the early 19th century)We couldn't finish this sad movie and returned it halfway unwatched. This is the worst Austen adaptation (perhaps it ties with the 1995 version of Persuasion) we have ever had the displeasure of viewing and can only warn clever Austen fans to indeed avoid it like the plague.PS- the book is well worth the time of any thinking person, enjoy Austen's delicious satire of Gothic romance."
Wadey fails to understand satire
Rhonda F. | Annapolis, MD | 12/04/1999
(1 out of 5 stars)
"It is hard for a lover of the novel Northanger Abbey to sit through this BBC adaptation and to keep from throwing objects at the TV screen-in fact, if Jane Austen herself were to see this, she would be somewhat amused and possibly put out. Maggie Wadey's adaptation has made Northanger Abbey into what it satirized, the Gothic novel (and the readers of Gothic novels).The role of Catherine Morland in the adaptation is portrayed fairly closely to Austen's Catherine, a open-hearted, generous girl whose imagination simply runs away with her. But the Henry Tilney of the novel is not a snuff-taking, cane-wielding, sappy-line-making hero of a Gothic novel-he is a tease, a nearly-handsome man with a messy room and a living (that's right, Henry Tilney is a clergyman, a charm that is completely dropped from the script). Some of the best scenes from novel, when Henry, completely deadpan, outrageously teases the literally-minded Catherine on diction, journals, Mrs. Radcliffe, etc., are not portrayed in the adaptation. A large section of Henry's personality is lost when those scenes are not adapted. Besides, Peter Firth's appearance is not accurate-Henry Tilney is supposed to be 24 or 25, dark hair and a brown skin, not 35 or 40 and blond.There are so many other absurdities within the adaptation that invoke surprise and disgust-who is the Marchioness, and what is she doing in the story! Why is John Thorpe less of a dunce and more of a schemer? Why is Northanger Abbey a castle? Catherine of the novel, with her romantic visions, expects hidden passages and dark tapestries, but is very disappointed to discover that Northanger Abbey is actually a comfortable, modern house-another element of satire! Why portray General Tilney as a drunk? Why does Catherine have those strange visions of Mrs. Allen threading her finger, etc.? Catherine's imagination only runs away with her at Northanger, with Henry there to correct her gently. And lastly, why are so many facts concerning the Tilney family and Mrs. Tilney's death altered unnecessarily? To make the story more "horrible?" All of these oddities and more simply are too strange to be overlooked.Oh, and Henry never "rode through the mist" on his way to propose. Such cheesiness should be eternally banned.The BBC is highly regarded in its accuracy when adapting great works of literature to the screen. Perhaps they were having off-day when they decided Wadey's Northanger Abbey actually captured the essence of the deliciously funny satire Austen wrote. Or maybe they never understood what the essence of the novel was in the first place."