Felicity Jones played Catherine Morland, who was imbued with the wide eyed naivety required, who having been brought up on a diet of lurid novels, is quite ready for an adventure. As the mysterious voice-over told us, at which point my heart sank: not another blinking voice-over. Mercifully the voice-over only reappeared at the end and didn't impinge on the story at all.
Catherine's daydreams certainly put mine to shame, but then mine tend to revolve around confectionery, usually pastry based, and occasionally, violent acts of retribution towards my co workers. I also tend to steer clear of books of the ilk of "The Mysteries of Udolpho" and have a sneaking suspicion that I have led too sheltered a life. Catherine spends her reveries in fleeing saturnine and glowering men around dark, Gothic castle, complete with flowing locks and a floaty dress.
Catherine gets her chance at an adventure when Mr and Mrs Allen ask her to accompany the Bath as Mr Allen is somewhat gouty. Mr Allen (Desmond Barrit), though old and slightly infirm, shows himself to be quite a heroic person, as when Brigands attack the coach she and the Allen's are travelling in, he starts to fight them off with his crutch. Alas this all transpires to be one of Cathy's fantasies and Mr. Allen eventually reaches Bath with nary a hair out of place.
Bath was well created, with plenty of rampaging carriages, out of whose way the pedestrians must leap to safety as they barrel along at quite a lick. Anyway, once Mrs. Allen and Catherine have hit the shops for a new dress, or twelve, they make their entrance in the Assembly rooms, which are packed. Cathy and Mrs. Allen have to fight their way through the throng until they get to the tea room and have to race for the final two seats at the tea table. Which they have to quit, as there aren't any tea things and people are looking at them funny. The problem transpires that Mrs. Allen can't talk to anyone without first being introduced and as she doesn't know anyone, she can't just walk up and start chatting.
This impasse if only ended when Henry Tilney brushes past the ladies and apparently sticks Mrs. Allen with a pin. He transpires to be extremely knowledgeable about muslin, is complimentary toward both ladies and with a twitch of an eye manages to get two seats vacated for the ladies. To prevent any impropriety he then arranges an introduction from the Master of Ceremonies to allow conversation and the invitation of a dance with added devilish smirk, but only the one mind you, with Miss Morland.
JJ Feild was Henry Tilney and he is the other reason I found this film so satisfying; he's definitely easy on the eye, and portrayed Henry with charm, wit and intelligence. More importantly he can act and he looks good in britches. Though if I were him, I'd ask my agent to get me some modern dress work, I've seen him in three films: "Mrs. Beeton", "The Ruby in the Smoke" and now this. All good solid period drama, but very heavy on the tight trouser front.
I don't blame Catherine's subsequent fantasy of a devilish Henry interrupts her bath, which must have been incredibly draughty as it took place in wood. This is one of the scenes that I found slightly too modern, Catherine imagining Henry in her bath chamber was racy enough, but having her stand up in all her nakedness was just too much. Henry on the other hand looked entirely happy.
His sister Eleanor is played by Catherine Walker, and is the embodiment of sense, manners and kindness. She is the complete opposite to Carey Mulligan's dimpled, man-hungry, simpering Isabella Thorpe.
Isabella is probably the most interesting character in the film, she's capable of sweetness, kindness and is friendly, but dig a little deeper and she's venal, greedy and scheming. Despite that, you can't help but to warm to her when, after she and Catherine have been spotted by two young and handsome men in a bookshop, they haughtily exit like duchesses, only to speed into a jog up an alley to catch up with them, so Isabella can flaunt her impressive decollete at them.
Several times I feared for that girl's bosoms, she was squeezed into frocks that were so low cut that nipple-skimming is an apt word.
As wolfish John Thorpe (William Beck) is sweet on Catherine and they are soon to be related by marriage, the Thorpe's make claims on her time and conspire to get Catherine to go on carriage rides by deception. The Tilney's have already made plans with Catherine, for a walk, but John insists that he saw them heading in the other direction on a different excursion and manages to get Catherine to come with them on a carriage ride.
If this were a modern day adaptation, John would drive a souped up Audi with tinted windows, bling hub-caps and the type of sound system, with bass so deep that it causes tectonic shifts. He drives so fast that Catherine needs two hands to keep her bonnet on and he doesn't stop, either, when he nearly runs over Mr. Allen, who angrily shakes his crutch at them, or when she spies the Tilney's walking along and wants to get off. His lame excuse is that he wanted to get to know her and that his sister couldn't possibly be left on her own with her brother, it wouldn't be proper.
Catherine's imagination now goes into overdrive, imagining rugged men tying Isabella to a bed in a diaphanous nightie and being pursued by persons unknown through a dark and forbidding castle.
Meanwhile, back in Bath, while wearing a symbolic red feather, Isabella is deflowered by Frederick Tilney and piteously asks if they're engaged now. Doh! Haven't you seen the length of his sideburns love? Sideburns like these only grace the faces of dissolute, rakish reprobates. Next time take a ruler with you.
When Catherine is found snooping in Mrs. Tilneys dusty room by Henry, she confesses her theory and is castigated by him for entertaining such a stupid notion. That night she is woken by Eleanor and told that she has to leave immediately as they have a hitherto forgotten engagement. So poor Catherine, believing that Henry has told his father her assumptions, is sent away and is forced to share a coach with unwashed rustic types, who offer her what looks to be raw tongue as a repast, which she declines politely and one man who travels with a pot of liquor in one hand and live goose in the other.
Soon after, Henry comes to call to apologise and after politely drinking the proffered lemonade, he asks Catherine to accompany him to see the Allen's. An annoying sister pipes up that you can see the house from here, evidently believing Henry to be a dunce, but Mrs. Morland shushes her and practically shoves Catherine out of the door with him.
Of course this is a costume drama, so a proposal is now offered and accepted and all is happy ever after. Apart from Isabella who desperately tried to get James back via Catherine, and General Tilney, who is estranged from Henry and apparently now spends most of his time grumpily striding through grounds of his estate alone.
An interview with Andrew Davies can be found here.