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Northanger Abbey is perhaps Jane Austen’s least appreciated book, at least by me, for much of my life. I thought it would be like the others, but it’s not. It’s even spoofier, and it’s a spoof of Gothic novels. Now, Gothic novels are kind of bad. The Mysteries of Udolpho is remarkable chiefly because absolutely nothing (and nothing shocking) happens in it.

Catherine Morland (Felicity Jones) has read too many novels, and she thinks life resembles them. When she ends up in an old country house, she nearly ruins her life by treating it and its inhabitants as if it were a castle in a Gothic novel.


This TV adaptation is near-perfect. The younger son of the Tilney house, Henry (JJ Feild), likes her, and is tolerant of her many faults. He calls her on them, but not insultingly. His sister, Eleanor (Catherine Walker), is gentle and mature. If they were the only three people in the novel, you might observe, it would be very boring. But Catherine also encounters less virtuous and much dumber people: Isabella Thorpe (Carey Mulligan), who is an insincere fortune-hunter who tries to entrap both Catherine’s brother and Henry’s; John Thorpe (William Beck), Isabella’s brother, who is a blowhard and wants to marry Catherine for her (nonexistent) money; Captain Tilney (Mark Dymond) and General Tilney (Liam Cunningham), who are cold-hearted and generally unpleasant.

My only real quibble with it is that John Thorpe is not good-looking enough to be a plausible alternative to Henry. He’s unbearable and he looks like the back end of a cab. It’s not charming for Catherine to be taken in. But everyone else is great–JJ Feild is exactly handsome enough for Henry, Felicity Jones is adorably but not irritatingly naïve, and all the adults are hilariously one-dimensional dramatic types. Carey Mulligan is hateful.

Of this run of made-for-TV Austens, this is the most pleasant. It’s like a small gelato of period cuteness.

Director: Jon Jones
Rating: so delightfully light
Length: 84 minutes
Score: 4/5

In an attempt, apparently, to give my brain whiplash, I followed up Inside Llewyn Davis with a movie that may be its opposite in every way, and, well, it’s never that enjoyable to watch a movie in which everyone involved is embarrassed. This is no exception. Austenland is a sad pastiche of Austen clichés and the inevitable American-in-Britain nominally hilarious garbage. At least, this time, the idiocy happens mostly at a theme park, so it’s slightly more bearable. Although the four hundredth time a person says “tally-ho,” you do sort of want to scream.

Anyhow, sad single Keri Russell as “Jane” goes to an Austen theme park, where she gets to act the part of the poor relation. There, she is surrounded by veterans of BBC period productions (Georgia King of Little Dorrit, JJ Feild of Northanger Abbey, and, in a slightly charming stroke, the chap who plays Bingley’s drunk brother-in-law in the Colin Firth Pride & Prejudice, in an identical rôle), who play other sad ladies or actors meant to help them live out their sad lady fantasies. For some reason, Bret McKenzie is also around, and Jane is too ignorant to notice that his accent is not British (this really bothered me; if you’re that into Austen, you probably have enough ambient anglophilia to spot a Kiwi a mile away). None of this bodes especially well. But the worst thing is the tragic waste of Jennifer Coolidge’s comic talent. She’s just loud and crude and large. I know this is what she has been doing for some time, but to reduce her to a vulgar caricature is cruel and pointless.

The movie does, amazingly, sort of keep you guessing about the final upshot, though that’s the only thing that shows any care at all. Even within the artificial and insane confines of the theme park, nothing makes a great deal of sense. It’s supposed to be a super-authentic Regency experience, so naturally the women go out shooting.

Also, whatever personal growth Jane achieves, she starts out the movie as an insane person. It literally spells out “Darcy was here” in wooden letters above her bed. What does that even mean? In what fevered imagination is that reasonable, cute, or funny? I ask this of the film-makers. You can be single, thirty, and a little depressed about it and/or fond of Jane Austen without being deranged.


Stray considerations, as usual:

This movie deploys “Bette Davis Eyes.” Not well, but points for the song regardless.

James Callis, like everyone else, looks embarrassed, but also as though he might be enjoying himself, so that’s…a plus, I guess.


Director: Jerusha Hess

Rating: PG-13, for non-innuendo

Length: 97 min., and I kept checking how much was left

Score: 2/5