I finally got a chance to see the recent adaptation of Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey and I wanted to add a note since I had reviewed the 1986 version. I just noticed that I had originally commented on the (then) upcoming version and hoped that it would succeed…and indeed it did. My comments have to do with the 90 minute version shown on PBS’ Masterpiece.
I think this version is about as good an adaptation as you are going to get from the novel. Not that there isn’t room for improvement, but many things were done well. The casting felt right, especially with Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland and JJ Field as Henry Tilney. There were changes from the book, but most of them were very much in the same spirit.
That being said, there are some marked differences. I got the feeling that Felicity Jones is much prettier than Catherine—from a viewing standpoint that is fine but there is some dissonance from the book when she is one of the prettiest women in a room. At 90 minutes, a lot had to be cut or combined. There were some areas that could have been expanded, such as Catherine’s suspicions of General Tilney (which seem to be extremely thin in this adaptation). Probably the weakest point and where this version suffers the most compared to the previous version has to do with Catherine’s halting introduction into society at Bath. For me, the one area that stood out as not ringing true with the book was Henry being much more amiable and open with Catherine. In the book you are never quite sure how far his affection for her runs as he keeps things at a socially proper level, plus actions that can be interpreted (incorrectly, but still possibly) as slights or disinterest in her. In this adaptation there is rarely any question of his affection.
As I said, most of these are minor quibbles and didn’t detract from the enjoyment at all. My wife, who has not read the novel, thought it very well done and pleasing. While I could not recommend the 1986 version, I have no problem doing so with this one.