They Just Didn't Get It, Did They?
By Rhonda, Chief Acolyte
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.