We are two part-time academics. Ellen teaches in the English department and Jim in the IT program at George Mason University.

Andrew Davies' latest film adaptation: _Northanger Abbey_ · 2 April 07

Dear Harriet,

My friend, Judy, is sending on a copy of Andrew Davies’ latest film adaptation, Northanger Abbey (from the novel by Jane Austen), and the stills she provided makes me want to see this one. The central actors are fundamental to a close film adapation’s success, and Felicity Jones and J.J. Field do look the way I’ve imagined Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney look. The stills are “grabbed” ones from the films and have come out somewhat darkened and elongated:

Felicity Jones and J.J. Fields as Catherine Morland and Henry Tilney, near close-up

She has also again given me permission to put her review (also on her blog at Live Journal) here on mine. She is again balanced and this time liked the film much more. From her review, using my categories (included in the comments) I’d categorize this NA as an “apparently faithful” adaptation (other examples would be Davies’ own 1995 P&P, the 1970s BBC Persuasion, Emma, and P&P, the 1980s S&S and MP and the 1990s S&S and Persuasion and BBC Emma). From her review of the latest MP, I’d categorize as commentary or close analogy (other examples would be the 1940 P&P, the 1987 BBC NA [which she mentions], the 1999 MP and the recent 2005 P&P):

“ITV’s new version of Northanger Abbey is a far better production than the previous week’s Mansfield Park, as I’d expected and hoped, with Andrew Davies as the scriptwriter. The dialogue is very crisp and convincing, as always with Davies – no clunkingly modern lines to break the spell. This is also a much better film than the previous BBC version of Northanger Abbey, which was something of an embarrassment and didn’t get the tone of the book at all. However, it still feels short at 93 minutes and (inevitably) has to leave out an awful lot of the novel.

I also feel it is slightly flat compared to the sharp wit of Austen, something which comes from losing the narrator’s voice. Davies does actually keep the narrator at the start and end (I think Geraldine James provides the voice) but there is no narrator cutting in the rest of the time, which I’d rather hoped there might be at key points.

With this version, my feeling is that the problem isn’t so much the time constraints, although it is still short at 90 minutes, but the
lack of filming on location in Bath, apparently to save money. Most of it was filmed in Dublin and it does look beautiful, but I miss Bath’s famous streets and buildings – and there’s nothing like that extraordinary scene in the 1980s film of the ladies taking the waters in their fine dresses.

Felicity Jones is very wide-eyed and young-looking, and convincing as a heroine starting out on life in eager expectation. She wears far less revealing clothes than Billie Piper did in MP. However, Isabella (Carey Mulligan) does wear low-cut dresses – this seems deliberate as she tries to attract attention from passing men. One change in Davies’ version is that we glimpse Isabella in bed with Captain Tilney before she is casually cast aside. She asks ‘Are we engaged now?’, but is curtly told to put on her clothes and go. I thought this was a poignant moment.

Catherine Walker is also very good as Eleanor: she reminds me a little of Emma Thompson as Elinor in the 1995 movie of Sense and Sensibility with that quiet self-control and feeling of staying in the background.

The dangers of reading novels are stressed, but my feeling was that this is done with less affection than in in the novel, where Austen’s vivid knowledge and enjoyment of Ann Radcliffe’s book comes across even as she lightly mocks her melodrama. Davies does enjoy playing up the sexual content of the Gothic element, with Catherine, played by Felicity Jones, dreaming scenes from ‘Udolpho’ mixed up with her fantasies about Henry Tilney.

Catherine’s reading of Radcliffe’s Udolpho features strongly in this adaptation, but references to another Gothic novel, Matthew Lewis’ The Monk are added in as well, building on a brief passage in the book where John Thorpe says he never reads novels, but read The Monk the other day. Davies includes a sexy Gothic dream sequence based on The Monk. As Henry Tilney (JJ Feild) discusses Radcliffe with Catherine, whereas
Thorpe (William Beck) is the one suggesting she should read The Monk, perhaps this is supposed to be an oblique comment on the difference in character between the two. Just guessing here as I’ve never read The Monk. I was dismayed to see Catherine burning her copy of Udolpho after being sent home, though I imagine the fact that it features prominently may well get more people to read it, alongside Northanger Abbey.

I don’t think Davies’s Tilney is as witty as Austen’s – and he seems more vulnerable than I’ve ever thought of the character being, maybe because he is played by JJ Feild, a fine actor who has a vulnerable quality to him.

He played the young Michael Caine character in the film of Swift’s Last Orders and was Sam Beeton in the BBC film The Secret Life of Mrs Beeton. Here he has tears in his eyes when he upbraids Catherine about her thinking his father is a murderer. I miss some of the wit and lightheartedness of Austen’s Henry, although those elements are still there – just with a note of slight melancholy added in at times.

I was struck by the fact that at the end Henry seems to turn on himself and criticise himself for having upbraided Catherine earlier when she suspected murder. He recognises that in a way she was right about his father after all, saying he killed his mother through “a kind of vampirism” – marrying her for her money and then sucking the life out of her through his coldness and unkindness. I think this is implied in Austen but not stated outright like this. For me this worked well, as a revelation of the “real” horror behind all the Gothic imaginings – the money-worship behind the black veil, so to speak.

Connected to this, Liam Cunningham is outstanding as General Tilney, in a performance which is nothing like the pantomime villain antics of Robert Hardy in the 1980s NA. Instead, this General is all cold politeness with a sort of sliminess about him. Every time he speaks both his children start involuntarily and sort of shrink away very slightly, nothing melodramatic about it, but it tells.”

I headed this blog letter with Davies’ name because I have concluded all his adaptations resemble one another. These include so many (e.g., Defoe’s Moll Flanders, Trollope’s The Way We Live Now [which is more of a comentary or free adaptation than is usual for Davies] and He Knew He Was Right, Gaskell’s Wives and Daughters and recent modern historical and other novels) that it’s important to see how he conventionalizes and exploits costume drama. His work influences and may well frame how people read high status older and recent novels. I read a study of them which came to the same conclusions I did. I summarize both this study and my own:

Davies in general (across all the novels he adapts): shows a detached, sympathetic irony towards the more sentimental or melodramatic characters; shows great sympathy towards the amoral and less than admirable protagonists and uses these to reflect on the cruelties and double standards of the world which judges them; is usually amused and amusing and wherever he cans lightens a text and finally opts for conventional values when it comes to sex, marriage, and money-making; adds literal action wherever possible, and tries to take advantage of particular actor’s strengths.

Nick wrote some perceptive observations and did not like the film, partly because his criteria are not fidelity but rather, Is this an entertaining thoughtful film in its own right? In the case of Austen’s books I’ve learned I look for partial fidelity more than in other author’s books but also a film which stands up in its own right. So for me the problem with both the 1987 NA and perhaps this one (I’ve yet to see it) is in order to do justice to Austen’s concept one has to blend domestic realism with genuine gothicism by which I mean use horror film conventions. Davies and Wadey’s presentation of gothic is trivializing: it comes down to adding sexual titillation and frankness.

Horror film conventions include typifying scenes, visibilia and character types which go well beyond psychoanalytical presentations of sexual experience. They are intended to disquiet and make viewers question their complacent ideas about what lies beneath appearances. It’s not just a matter of visualizing the cruelties or injustice of an imagined supernatural world, what Todorov calls “the fantastic” glimpsed through the natural one.

There are not many stills available from the earlier _NA (directed by Giles Foster, screenplay Maggie Wadey), but this one of Googie Withers as Mrs Allen suggests something of the perception the film had of the older woman as witch:

In a play adaptation of NA by Matthew Francis (1997), Francis turns Mrs Allen into Radcliffe’s heroine’s maid, Annette (Catherine doubles as Emily, Henry Tilney as Valancourt, and the General as Montoni).

I too like Emma Thompson as Elinor Dashwood; here’s the 1987 production’s Eleanor Tilney (Ingrid Lacey) who is intended to encompass the realistic heroine and the gothic:

However, in this particular still (from Judy’s blog) it seems the director, Jon Jones, did make an attempt to bring other kinds of gothic motifs into the film. The shadows falling on Felicity Jones as Catherine suggest there is something to be nervous & wary about in this room:

Gothic or horror films (as they are called in the trade) often do very well at the box office, allure audiences in, because they reveal things to us we can’t “see” in books (or life): the very small, the big; the transient (projectiles, sky, clouds, least permanent components of our environment, accelerated motion and slow down motion), what we don’t notice or what is specifically cinematic because only films can allow us to see these: the familiar reseen newly (you use uncommon camera angles); phenomena overwhelming consciousness (catastrophes, call forth excitement and agony which thwarts detached observation, a cut off head, pornographic motifs, all that is dreadful and off-limits, spectacles which upset the mind). Mary Reilly achieved this.

For example, an intendedly thoughtful and detailed review of Davies’ NA in a blog called Screen Stories feels superficial because the author does not go beyond demanding psychological realism and does not treat the film deeply by looking at its filmic conventions from a generic perspective. His attitude towards the gothic may be gauged by his complete condemnation of the Wadey’s NA which opted for emphasizing the gothic and omitting the depth of realism Austen’s novel of a young woman’s entrance into a hyprocritical and injust world contains. I thought the earlier NA was not a success (I didn’t like the dream sequences), but found it a revealing experiment. This is disappointing as I gather the author is someone who intends to get a degree in film studies and write professionally about films.

Judy’s comment on the actor playing General Tilney suggests he was allowed to enact the perception the gothic in literature (and horror films) offer of people’s ability to enact to one another Kafkesque hidden malevolences and caprices.


Posted by: Ellen

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  1. Nick’s first response was in the vein of “ho hum” more Andrew Davies’ stuff:

    “The latest NA was about 90 minutes I suppose (it is 120 on TV but them there are ad breaks). I can’t find very much to say about it: competent, mildly enjoyable but nothing to grip one either emotionally or intellectually.
    This is where a technically worse adaptation may be more interesting in high-lighting certain themes and aspects even if by omission.

    I find the story of NA as presented in this adaptation somewhat irritating: day-dreaming girl grows up and gets married to sensible, kind man. There was no real pain, no real sense of cruelty. And the rape fantasies were treated as a sort of entertainment. I don’t mean they were unnecessarily eroticised but they were kept light.

    But I am struggling for anything to say; I am sure I will have forgotten the production in a year or so.

    Elinor    Apr 2, 9:05am    #
  2. I told Nick about the review at Screen Stories and he went over and read it and amended his dismissal a little:

    “I read the review of NA: very well-written and no doubt perceptive but I feel something lacking, some sense of the adaptation as a work in its own right. And of course it is a television film.

    Which is something of a hybrid animal. Because television is a very specific medium; it is not the same as cinema and operates in a different way, although there is of course some overlap. Perhaps it is similar to the difference between novels and letters. I don’t mean analogous but being in the same medium (written/visual) yet at the same quite different. I have really paid more attention to television than cinema over the past 20 years or so.

    Elinor    Apr 2, 9:08am    #
  3. I replied in the spirit of defending the gothic itself:

    The problem with filming the book is it’s both a story of a young lady’s “entrance into the world” and a replacement of gothic with truer gothic. I'm very fond of the novel because I think it delves the gothic and finds it in every day life; it's a highly self-reflexive literary book with much commentary on all sorts of books, art, the picturesque, and novel reading itself. All this is hard to do justice to. My younger daughter first learned to love Austen when she read NA. I saw her eyes as she shut the book: they were shining with a kind of deep gratification.

    I understand the reviewer seemed to downgrade the book—or at least left open the idea the book is much better than people think, but quick readers won’t get that and the book will be regarded as minor “light” and “thin” still, when it’s not, at least not potentially. She didn’t finish it—or was not satisfied with it. She put it on the shelf for a while she said. Then she got sick and died.

    They all play up sexual content. And the actresses must be resigned to wearing costumes that make them feel they are ready for their mammography.

    The word “charming” is a warning signal to me. Oh dear. It’s ideologically charged—as are all movies.

    I’ve been thinking as I’m reading today that perhaps the problem for NA as an adaptation is the way commercial and also or even independent films are made: they are all genre-directed. There’s costume drama which is romantic melodrama and family and love and intangible oriented. There are a set of values and attitudes of mind inculcated and an audience assumed. I suggest that you can insert sexuality here and increase it; you can swerve to screwball comedy (which has some of the same typical situations, characters, tropes), but can you wed costume to horror film. Probably, but no one thinks to make an Austen novel into a partial horror film.

    Why not? I think Austen is always seen as comic; but what if originally instead of comedy (the 1939 movie) someone had seen her as Cheknovian (which she is—and To the Lighthouse the film was made that way). One good essay I read by a man named Krakauer said films should reveal something to us: things normally unseen (the very small, the big), the transient (projectiles, sky, clouds, least permanent components of our environment, accelerated motion and slow down motion), what we don’t notice or what is specifically cinematic because only films make us see these: unconventional complexes, world’s refuse, the familiar (you use uncommon camera angles); phenomena overwhelming consciousness (catastrophes, call forth excitement and agony which thwarts detached observation, a cut off head, pornographic motifs, all that is dreadful and off-limits, spectacles which upset the mind). They can force us to focus on hands say. We are free as spectators in a theatre to see what we like (well within limits) but not in movies. But they can show things in ways novels can’t.

    For example, in Last Orders that coffee jar with the ashes of Jack (do you know that film—JJField was the young Jack). Wow is that effective. The novel can’t match it in power. There’s modern death. Artefacts can be powerful in movies.

    Now imagine yourself reading NA. Imagine the speech Henry gives Catherine terrifying her; imagine some of her feelings about the gothic, the apprehensions about the general. Give them image and mood and instead of sex we might have terror (not horror quite as in the old defintion—first broached by Radcliffe—horror is about the body, while terror is spiritual so ghost stories are terror but Dracula and Frankenstein are horror).

    They add sex, but they don’t add real gothic from the horror genre. Now The Monk would immediately make them turn to horror film, no? I’ve read the Monk twice; once in graduate school and again a few years ago. It was written by a young man aged 19. It’s very crude but it has a strange power. It’s not that sexy as it’s not pornography; it was shocking for its time and probably Victorian readers but no longer.

    On Jacobi: he would be good. I saw a film adaptation of Uncle Silas which was much better than the novel. Peter O’Toole did the vampiric male at the center.

    “Jump out of your seat” is good. Movies are particularly good at the fantastic—they can lure us into thinking there are these powerful forces beneath appearances. A movie you probably ought not to see but which has remained in my miind ever since is The Woman in Black. M. R. James can unnerve me.

    Elinor    Apr 2, 9:11am    #
  4. From Arnie Perlstein:

    “The following comment by Judy Geater was significant to me:

    ‘I was struck by the fact that at the end Henry seems to turn on himself and criticise himself for having upbraided Catherine earlier when she suspected murder. He recognises that in a way she was right about his father after all, saying he killed his mother through “a kind of vampirism” – marrying her for her money and then sucking the life out of her through his coldness and unkindness. I think this is implied in Austen but not stated outright like this. For me this worked well, as a revelation of the ‘real’ horror behind all the Gothic imaginings – the money-worship behind the black veil,so to speak.’

    That is a crucial point, which speaks to Davies’s insight into the novel, because Henry’s upbraiding of Catherine has been cited so often, and so incorrectly, as ‘proof’ that Jane Austen was, in Northanger Abbey, doing some very heavy handed satire of the perils of too much imagination. What she was really doing, I believe, was showing that the business of perceiving ‘reality’ is a very dangerous and complex business, without any easy rules to guide you. One must navigate between the Scylla of too much imagination,
    i.e., seeing what is not there, and the Charybdis of too little imagination, i.e., not seeing what IS there.

    So that is excellent that Davies illustrates this as described by Judy-in her conjurings, Catherine was factually wrong, but metaphorically spot-on! In a way, her imaginings of various horrors is a lot like a dream-and if Catherine had awoken after a night of vivid nightmares (Nightmare Abbey) and had had the intellectual wherewithal to see them as such, and as messages from her unconscious that General Tilney is a very bad egg, even if he did not murder his wife, then there’d be no confusion among readers. But then,it would not be literature either. JA is not going to make it that easy on her readers, she makes us work to understand what she means.

    Elinor    Apr 2, 2:31pm    #
  5. Dear Arnie,

    I agree with you. I find NA to be a work of Austen’s maturity. She had just revised it and was not satisfied by her attempt to blend a realistic novel with a critique and replacement of the gothic. She was pulling the gothic out of life an showing where it lies before us every day. Eleanor Tilney is a true gothic heroine; that is, to say, someone one could meet everywhere at the time.

    There are people who have written adequately on NA: Judith Wilt’s Ghosts of the Gothic is one. Those deeply in sympathy with Radcliffe often write well on NA, e.g. Coral Ann Howells, Love, Mystery and Misery.

    Here’s some notes I took from Wilt on Austen:

    Austen’s transformed machinery is activated, energized by dread; turning point of Emma and Northanger Abbey is recognition of dread; idea is not to mock but to raise machinery to its real importance, to make the anxieties of common life serious, high, significant, p 126. Judith Wilt’s analysis depends on deeper understanding of Radcliffe and assumption Austen had that understanding too, p 128. Strong support of Udolpho in opening; interesting comments on history; Austen heiress of Radcliffe. Catherine knows remorse, self-reproach, p. 134; this generates self-examination, self-forgiveness and growth. This latter does not happen to Emma Woodhouse.

    Setting is significant; that’s why its title is appropriate. At the Abbey there is discomfort, something hollow at its center, something very scary. To convince you have to move from within? Fathers still terrifying in transparency and dominance, also inadequacy; trouble is to find an alternate, a solution towards freedom that is not simply beastlike, p 144.

    Udolpho is embedded in Northanger. Here in the great Abbey, still labyrinthian, there’s an evil father, silent checked brother, tyrannized daughter. Everyone agrees the General is a gothic villain; others have seen Tilney is a Valancourt, Eleanor an Emily.

    Another thing is to link Northanger Abbey and Persuasion: two pairs of central lovers who fall in love quickly. There are others: Jane and Bingley, Jane and Churchill, but on the margin. In the case of Willoughby and Marianne, he was faking it.

    Hardly any letters by heroines. Go through books looking for a dream; see if there is one.

    Genteel Demon-Lover. We see some motifs of the gothic clearly in Mansfield Park: Sir Thomas and Fanny, the tyrant-father and daughter; the attic. Henry Crawford given real depths and real powers. These severe tonguelashings, worse than any other scourge among the anxieties of common life, p 154.

    Intensity of that scene at Box Hill: sense conveyed of the crust of polite behavior cracking over a real abyss, of an achieved self exposed as monstrous, and overthrown, p 155. Jane Fairfax’s is the personality under siege, p 157. Frank and Jane’s story a Gothic subnovel within larger novel, p 158. Notice these names. Frank and Jane Austen.

    Remember how I pointed to the incest motifs in the novels (Jane and Frank).

    Thank you, Arnie. Early reports on the latest Persuasion suggest it’s better than the 1995 one, is indeed excellent. We’ll be hearing more about this one I expect.

    Elinor    Apr 2, 2:40pm    #
  6. From Eighteenth Century Worlds: Arnie wrote:

    “What she was really doing, I believe, was showing that the business of perceiving ‘reality’ is a very dangerous and complex business, without any easy rules to guide you. One must navigate between the Scylla of too much imagination, i.e., seeing what is not there, and the Charybdis of too little imagination,i.e., not seeing what IS there.”

    To which Judy replied:

    “A problem in Davies’ version is that he does muddy this by having Catherine burn her copy of ‘Udolpho’ – though Henry’s further explanation to her, where he turns on himself, does come after this scene.”
    Elinor    Apr 3, 10:18am    #
  7. I just finished it and think the best way I can express what I feel is so to say it speaks home to Yvette’s generation, is meant for teenage girl around 18. If I had had this tape when I taught NA (twice), I would have had the girls loving it.

    It has flaws; Judy named some of them. There is an anti-novel discourse in it. Cuckoo. Who would have thought that would not be eliminated. It identifies the gothic as sex but the definition of vampirism and some of the gothic sequences (especially the use of music—the tune is one I recognize from Mary Reilly which I screened a number of times for my students) are very effective. The world can be mended if you end up with a good man :)It is a girl's film but from a man's point of view (if that makes sense).

    This set of films will come into play when I finally sit down and write.

    It does fit Davies’s types (faithful and conventional in many ways, at some distance too) but he is a man of understanding and integrity. It was interesting Austen’s language was most kept in the case of General Tilney whose performance was outstanding, the very core of the film.

    Davies took this line and made his thematic variations:

    But why he should say one thing so positively, and mean another all the while, was most unaccountable! How were people, at that rate, to be understood? .... Catherine Morland, NA

    People are not to be understood readily; they are ever deceitful. A small nugget but he pulled it out (did Davies).

    Judy confirmed my sense of the film from her side of the pond thus: "It's interesting you should say this NA is perfect for teenagers, because Charlotte and her friend Rosie both love it and think it is the best of the three ITV movies, though I preferred Persuasion. I'm with you that Ritson as Edmund is the standout performance in MP, and Liam Cunningham as General Tilney in NA."

    Elinor    Apr 5, 10:28am    #
  8. Judy answered Arnie on ECW:

    “Arnie quoted Judy 'A problem in Davies’ version is that he does muddy this by having Catherine burn her copy of Udolpho – though Henry’s further explanation to her, where he turns on himself, does come after this scene.'"

    Can you give more details of how he turns on himself?”

    Henry turns up at Catherine’s home and she is very apologetic, feeling that the reason she was sent away from Northanger was because she had such wicked suspicions of his father. He rejects this, saying that she has nothing to be ashamed of; it’s the father who should be ashamed. I don’t remember the exact wording, but he then adds that he is sorry he criticised her for her suspicions, and refers back to an earlier suggestion by himself that there is a form of vampirism at Northanger. He says his father married his mother for her money, making her think it was for love, and then sucked the life out of her through his neglect.


    I’d like to add I too was disquieted by the destruction of Udolpho. It was blaming a woman’s book and vision. Austen actually provides strong praise for Radcliffe. In an magazine article by Germaine Greer Judy sent me Greer says "no body" reads Radcliffe and continues this dissing. Radcliffe is praised strongly by Austen and also other women's books. Davies is policing what women read by women. This is the opposite of what Austen intended in her Chapter 5 where she stands up for women novelists and women readers.

    The final scene with Henry Tilney does not quite make up for that visual image. To add to Judy's memory, Henry (J.J. Feild, wonderfully effective as Tilney) asserts his father destroyed his mother's life in effect and that of everyone in the family and this is borne out by what we have seen of Eleanor Tilney. Catherine Walker is an important character; in Austen's book she's a reader of Radcliffe too.

    Elinor    Apr 5, 10:31am    #
  9. Thanks to Judy I’ve seen this latest Andrew Davies’s production and confess I liked it very much. Why confess? I’m nowhere near 18 to say 20, but found I could enter into how I felt at the time of reading it for the first time (when I was somewhere between 17 and 19) and that it is just perfect, perfect for reaching today’s young woman. I wish I had language for explaining why I think this; I feel my younger daughter would love it.

    I will rewatch it tomorrow and am beginning to reread Austen’s NA.

    Thus far in my project I’ve reread Emma, P&P and Mansfield Park —Austen’s novels (not the sequels, which my older daughter has shown me are selling big in commercial bookstores like Books a Million).

    Davies has led me to reread Austen’s NA.

    I do see some flaws and problems and found myself at moments dismayed (I agree with Judy’s assessment that astonishingly this production in effect damns Radcliffe’s and gothic novels so Austen I guess is ahead of our time as she’s clearly also enamoured of them). It is a girl’s world seen from a man’s point of view. It was not filmed in Bath. Indeed the same two places in Ireland (King's Inn, a lawyer's school, and Lissmore Castle and its grounds) were the set (in effect); very carefully photographed to suggest Bath and not give away they were in the same place beyond what might be inevitable.

    But there is much of real value as a film in its own right and as an adaptation of NA, the first successful one yet. I have to admit although I enjoyed the ITV MP, it was not a success. Not a complete failure, but not a success. I suspect (crass as such a comment seems) it suffered from not enough money and time spent on time and not enough experience on the director’s part, and Wadey’s determination to somehow rewrite Austen (she did that and did not succeed in her previous NA).

    Davies and Jones (the director, don’t forget him and whoever provided the music and camera work) is a successful one. The actors were individualized and scenes well done. The people could speak Austen, and particularly Liam Cunningham (General Tilney). Davies’ NA reaches the target audience. It’s the “apparently faithful” type—which the ITV MP is not; the ITV MP_is more like Rozema’s or the 1940 _P&P or the recent P&P; the ITV P&P is a kind of commentary or analogue, which changes some things fundamentally. Nothing wrong in that if it succeeds. But it’s not easy to succced in such a venture. It’s easier to succeed if you do a full transposition and set the story in modern dress and attitudes (say Clueless or Metropolitan)>

    And now retiring to Austen’s NA and looking forward to watching the film tomorrow morning.

    Sylvia    Apr 8, 8:59am    #
  10. "Dear Ellen,

    Have you seen the new Northanger Abbey as yet? I was glad to see that you share many of my feelings about the BBC Persuasion from the 70’s. It’s very skillful at presenting the various subtle differences between characters, particularly in the Lyme Regis and Uppercross scenes.

    I am very interested in this latest version of Northanger Abbey, having recently subjected my students in a Gothic Novel course to the BBC version starring Peter Firth and Katharine Schlesinger—they laughed through most of it. Have you ever used it in class? I plan to teach a course in the fall in which I use several BBC adaptations. In the past, I have found students appreciative of what they perceive as the accuracy of these adaptations, even as they express greater enjoyment of more recent, big budget productions. Most accuse the older versions of lack of spirit and a slavish conformity to the letter, rather than to the spirit of the novels on which they are based. I am tempted to attribute their responses to their being of an age in which strong sensory stimuli and broadly expressed ideas are the order of the day but I suspect there is something else.

    Have you used any of the films you write about in your classes? What has been the response? Sorry to pepper you with all these questions but, as I’ve said in previous messages, the opportunity to chat with someone else with an interest in these adaptations is irresistible. I hope you’re enjoying spring weather in the D.C. area; here in Upstate NY, we’re expecting snow by the
    end of the week. Spring is a very brief affair in these parts.

    All the best,
    — To which I replied:

    Dear Nicola,

    I just watched this new NA. And it does speak home to young people today. Bright students will enter the 1995 S&S and the 1995 Persuasion; but somehow they are for another generation of older responses.

    I wish I could send you a copy. I wish I had had a copy during the years I taught NA. I can't. I haven't the equipment, partly because this is a British tape and what I have is a machine that plays European tapes, but not one which will copy them.

    Do get yourself a copy of this if you can. The ad on ITV at the end said DVDs of it are available; maybe you can find one which plays in the US too.

    Sylvia    Apr 8, 9:00am    #
  11. "Dear Ellen,

    Your own response gives me hope that it’s an adaptation I can use in class. I will definitely take your advice and try to get hold of it …

    On a different subject, your remark in that last message about the 1995 Sense and Sensibility and Persuasion resonated for me. This has been my experience as well. Somehow, my students have had difficulties with these that they have trouble articulating. These are the films that they cannot approach without the lens of their 21st century, late adolescent sensibilities. It’s very interesting.

    Sylvia    Apr 8, 9:05am    #
  12. We had an exchange on WW and Trollope-l about the coming adaptation of Gaskell’s Cranford. Apparently the elderly nervous unmarried woman, Matty, who along with a her broken brother returned from the sea (Peter) emerge as the central figures of the stories have been replaced by a handsome romantic man in the lead with a young heroine for him to chase and marry (or vice versa).

    Happily Heidi Thomas (not Andrew Davies) is the writer, but the change was still made, and this prompted me to comment on these lists about Davies:

    Thank you to Judy and Nick (who said that there was some excuse for the new characters as they appear in the late story Gaskell wrote much later than the series and is added on in an appendix in new editions of Cranford. It’s a star-studded cast and will probably be much more in the vein of the costly BBC productions like The Way We Live Now, Wives and Daughters. I too am glad to see Heidi Thomas rather than Andrew Davies whose work I’ve been studying. I have a new wrinkle to add to what’s typical of him: he also tends strongly to turn the stories he takes into oedipal dramas with the older man of the original story becoming a central figure in the new, displacing the heroine. The question becomes whether that man is worthy to control or rule the family (Sir Thomas in Mansfield Park, Melmotte in TWWLN); we also witness intense conflicts with a son (if there is one provided in the original story) and the romantic hero goes through an ordeal to prove himself. None of this need be in the original story, but what if you con’t have the characters. Why add them! I didn’t realize there was some excuse by characters brought in late in the book. The center of Gaskell’s book is an elderly woman who never married, nervous, fearful, and her broken brother, Peter.

    Can’t have that.

    I Capture the Castle has the father as the eccentric and more than a little broken man. I too enjoyed I Capture; it featured Bill Nighy in the father role, and is a kind of screwball-romantic comedy, family melodrama.

    Elinor    Apr 22, 9:43am    #

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