Northanger Abbey

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9-11 p.m., Sunday, March 25
ITV1 (U.K.)


LONDON -- ITV's season of new Jane Austen films hits full stride with a wonderfully evocative version of "Northanger Abbey" written with flair and imagination by Andrew Davies, adding to his list of fine credits including "Bleak House," "Tipping the Velvet" and "Bridget Jones's Diary."

Capturing vividly the flush and wonder of adolescence, the film mines Austen's first-written but last-published novel to find purest nuggets of wit, romance and social satire. The story's 18th-century heroine, Catherine Morland, has a fevered imagination and Davies draws on Austen's droll illustrations of it to create scenes of gothic adventure.

This is Austen for those who imagine wrongly that her novels are dry and dainty. There's lust and hunger in these characters and Davies, along with director Jon Jones ("A Very Social Secretary," "Archangel"), gives them full rein while never betraying the social straightjackets of the time.

A voice-over using Austen's words sets the scene as Davies matches the author for economy in showing Catherine's growth from a plain and awkward child to a smart and pretty teenager.

Felicity Jones is all wide eyes and passionate heart as the young woman who seeks to be a heroine in her own love story if she could ever find the right hero. Like all Austen characters, her hardworking father (Gerry O'Brien) and gentle mother (Julia Dearden) know that money is more important than romance, however, so they are happy for Catherine to accept an invitation from the better-off Allens to live with them in Bath.

Mr. Allen (Desmond Barrit) has a decent living but Mrs. Allen (Sylvestra Le Touzel) is easily impressed by the Bath elite and only too aware that she lacks acquaintance with any of them. Catherine's personable brother James (Hugh O'Connor), however, has won the attentions of the young women in the Thorpe family and their eldest, Isabella (Carey Mulligan), seeks to make Catherine her best friend.

Meanwhile, the impressionable girl has become enamored of an affable snob named Henry Tilney (J.J. Field) and his sweet-natured sister Eleanor (Catherine Walker). Into the mix comes Isabella's opportunist brother John (William Beck) and Henry's selfish brother Captain Frederick Tilney (Mark Dymond).

Hovering above all the young people and key to their fate is Henry's father, General Tilney (Liam Cunningham) for whom the state of marriage is a financial contract and nothing but.

Catherine is soon whisked off to the Tilney home, the magnificent but spooky Northanger Abbey, where the teenager's appetite for tales of ghoulies and ghosties brings about the expected series of Austen misunderstandings.

Filmed on location in Ireland, with Lismore Castle standing in for Northanger, the film is shot beautifully by Ciaran Tanham while composer Charlie Mole's score adds to the quickening pace of Catherine's fantasies.

Mulligan as the over-confident but naive Isabella and Walker as the charmingly secure Eleanor make convincing opposites while Field has an offhand but winning charm as Henry. At the center of it all, Jones is captivating as breathless adventuress, gullible innocent and an Austen heroine hungry for life.

NORTHANGER ABBEY
ITV
A coproduction of Granada Television and WGBH Boston
Credits:
Teleplay: Andrew Davies
Director: Jon Jones
Producer: Keith Thompson
Executive producer: Charles Elton
Cinematographer: Ciaran Tanham
Production designer: David Wilson
Editor: Sue Wyatt
Costume designer: Grania Preston
Composer: Charlie Mole
Cast:
Catherine Morland: Felicity Jones
Henry Tilney: J.J. Field
Isabella Thorpe: Carey Mulligan
Eleanor Tilney: Catherine Walker
Mrs. Allen: Sylvestra Le Touzel
Mr. Allen: Desmond Barrit
Mr. Morland: Gerry O'Brien
Mrs. Morland: Julia Dearden
James Morland: Hugh O'Connor
General Tilney: Liam Cunningham
John Thorpe: William Beck
Captain Frederick Tilney: Mark Dymond
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