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Northanger Abbey: 1986

Kind critics have called it quirky. For some it is “awful” and still others call it “A fun and enjoyable adaptation of the Jane Austen novel.” Safe to say, no one is ambivalent. Written by Maggie Wadey (The Buccaneers) for the BBC in 1986 and shown on Masterpiece Theater in December of 1987, Northanger Abbey boasts fair a cast and wonderful scenery. With a different script and score it could have rivaled the Austen adaptations of the 1990’s. Instead, it remains an engaging but slightly discordant note in the Austen film symphony. It is truly unlike anything that came before or has been produced since. As the shortest Jane Austen film on record (it clocks in at 90 minutes) Northanger Abbey lacks the time given to other adaptations for plot exposition. Indeed, while some of Austen’s best lines were allowed to remain, the writer felt compelled to add new scenes and create new characters to fill out the story, cutting the original plot still further. Perhaps Jean Bowden, Chawton Archivist said it best when she states, “They completely missed the joke.” Maggie Wadey managed to take Jane Austen funniest novel, a satire on the literature of the day, and turn it into what is touted as a Gothic fantasy. All right if you go in for that sort of thing, but certainly not Jane Austen’s Northanger Abbey. Adding to the awkward feel of the film is the score by Ilona Sekacz (Mrs. Dalloway)- a weird mix of period appropriate, night (more…)