Wednesday, May 13, 2020

Northanger Abbey (1986, Jane Austen Film Adaptation)

Northanger Abbey1986

I'm going to do something dangerous. I'm going to assume that anyone reading this post already knows Jane Austen's plot and may have even read Northanger Abbey. If you have no knowledge of the plot, this Jane Austen website has a tolerable summary although even they assume Catherine was already reading gothic novels before traveling to Bath and that is not mentioned anywhere in Jane Austen's book.

Now, on to the 1986 film adaptation of Northanger Abbey. What happened? I'm just pretty much agog with confusion and disappointment and a smallish modicum of malicious delight. Not that I had high hopes to start with, but I at least had some hope that it wouldn't be so HORRIFIC.

Peter Firth as Henry Tilney (Northanger Abbey 1986)
Peter Firth as Henry Tilney

My first issue is Henry Tilney. I've never liked Peter Firth, will never like Peter Firth, and every time I see him I see Pilate from the biblical movie Risen. He's a rather gross-looking man and his youth did not improve him. He plays Henry Tilney with arrogance, a twisted lip, and when he shows up at the end of the film to reunite with Catherine, I rolled my eyes and fought a gag reflex. Poor man. He didn't deliberately make me hate Henry Tilney, but his performance managed it. Henry Tilney doesn't take much seriously, certainly not himself, but I suspect that when he speaks, all of his witticisms are supposed to be just that, spoken in a light, teasing tone that Peter Firth simply could not manage.

Also, Henry Tilney is a minister, as in a pastor, as in a vicar. He is nothing of the kind here but keeps his own estate separate from his family. Why make this change? Part of Catherine's original reason for liking him is because her father is also a minister and she admits she is partial to the profession.

Northanger Abbey 1986
Crazy French Court Lady and General Tilney

Next. What is with the crazy lady in the French court makeup that makes her look like a gaunt corpse fresh from the grave? And what is she doing as a friend of General Tilney and staying at Northanger Abbey? Super, super creepy, and not at ALL in the book.

Northanger Abbey 1986
A boating scene with saxophone music in the background

Then we have the music. Oh dear, no. I love jazz. I do. But it has absolutely no place in random scenes in a Jane Austen movie. There should be violins or piano or cello or flute or something else, ANYTHING else, other than a SAXOPHONE! This isn't Ladyhawke, a movie I love and actually have come to love the odd 1980s music permeating that film. So the music was a big thumbs' down.

Northanger Abbey 1986
A mixed bathing scene in Bath

Since when did "taking the waters" in Bath include putting on little brown outfits and hopping in a swimming pool with other people in a MIXED BATHING situation? Not sure about the floating plates. People have been musing over those for years, but I suspect they're either herbs for the waters or they're lovely little snacks in case the bathers get hungry. It doesn't make sense either way.

Northanger Abbey 1986
Catherine Morland sleeping at Northanger Abbey

I get it. Northanger Abbey was filmed in 1986. But their Catherine Morland looks more like Christine Daae than Sarah Brightman in the musical The Phantom of the Opera. A favorite of mine, true, but that look does not translate well to a Catherine Morland, at least, not for me.

Unfortunately, actress Katharine Schlesinger, who plays Catherine portrays her almost as a flirtatious and seductive heroine. There are suggestive glances that I suspect are supposed to be naivete, but it doesn't translate well. This makes sense because there are some insane imaginary scenes she indulges in. Running in a bedsheet and being kidnapped by two men. Say WHAT?

Northanger Abbey 1986
Catherine's vivid kidnapping imaginings

See, the thing with Catherine Morland is that she never really started reading novels until she met Isabella Thorpe in Bath. Isabella was the instigator. But in this version, Catherine was already deeply steeped in novels and unhealthy romantic imaginings before she ever traveled to Bath, which is not how her character is designed in the book. Catherine does have an active imagination. But she never has visions and suggestive dreams that are something out of a vampire gothic horror story.

Northanger Abbey 1986
Catherine and Miss Tilney

To sum up, the 1986 Northanger Abbey is dreadful. If it had a different musical score and a totally different actor as Henry Tilney, it might have been palatable. I could have forgiven the rest of the weirdness if they had simply gone a different route with those two items. The costuming is very Georgian so it's passable. This was Jane's third novel, written in the late 1790s, and I liked seeing more of a Georgian aesthetic in the film since it made for a change from the usual straight-on Regency period.

I will say that if you want a really good laugh, watch it. My sister and I laughed through much of it and then laughed so hard we cried when we read through reviews on IMDB. There are some AWESOME and clever reviews for this adaptation that are totally worth reading. Laughter is good for the soul and those reviews will make you LAUGH. ❤

1 comment:

  1. I have a vague feeling I saw this at some point and promptly blocked it from my mind but... Peter Firth is quite possibly the worst possible casting for Tilney that I have ever considered. The new, flirty and handsome Tilney is infinitely more like him in my head, even if all the movie adaptations of this are complete rubbish. LOL


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