A coming-of-age tale for the young and naïve 17-year-old Catherine Morland, Northanger Abbey takes a decidedly comical look at themes of class, family, love and literature. Revelling in the sensationalist - and extremely popular - Gothic fiction of her day, the story follows Catherine out of Bath to the lofty manor of the Tilneys, where her overactive imagination gets to work constructing an absurd and melodramatic explanation for the death of Mrs Tilney, which threatens to jeopardise her newly forged friendships. This Audible Originals production of Northanger Abbey stars Emma Thompson (Academy Award, Golden Globe, Emmy and BAFTA winner, Love Actually, Harry Potter, Sense and Sensibility), Lily Cole (The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus, Snow White and the Huntsman, St. Trinian's), Douglas Booth (Noah, Great Expectations, The Riot Club), Jeremy Irvine (Warhorse, The Railway Man, Now Is Good), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark, The Illusionist, Alice in Wonderland) and Ella Purnell (Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, Never Let Me Go, Kick-Ass 2), amongst others.
"Impressive." (Harper's Bazaar) "This new production marries the author's wit, charm and dry humour with performances from some of the UK's leading actors." (Psychologies) "A wonderful new dramatisation." (The Times) "Emma Thompson leads a large, glitzy cast." (Economist)
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Northanger Abbey is often overshadowed by Jane Austen's other greats such as Pride and Prejudice or Sense and Sensibility. However I think that it is some of her best work, bringing just the right amount of drama, romance and heartache into a brilliant story.
The cast is absolutely fantastic, with once again the amazing Emma Thompson perfectly capturing Austen's dry sense of humour and wit within the text. Ella Purnell really brings to life the innocence and naivety of Catherine and Jeremy Irvine makes Henry a lovable bachelor.
I'd highly recommend this to anyone, it's a really enjoyable listen with a great cast to match.
Northanger Abbey is the most deliciously light of all of Austen’s books, filled with humour as Austen pokes gentle fun at her own class and gender. Catherine Morland is our naïve 17-year-old heroine, leaving her country parsonage home for the first time to visit the bright lights of Bath in the company of her generous neighbours, the Allens. Starry-eyed and romantic, and with an obsessive love of the Gothic sensation fiction of the day, Catherine is ready to be thrilled by everything and everyone she meets. Having reviewed the book before, I'm concentrating here on the production and performances in Audible's new dramatisation of it.
This is done as half narration and half dramatisation. The narration is done superbly by Emma Thompson, someone who truly 'gets' Austen as anyone who has watched her performance in the wonderful 1995 version of Sense and Sensibility will know – a film for which she also wrote the script. In this one, she goes all out to bring out the humour in the script, and her affectionately ridiculing tone and excellent comic timing had me laughing aloud time and time again. It truly feels to me as if she's channelling Austen – I suspect if Jane read her manuscript aloud to her family, she'd have delivered it just like this, with the same fond teasing of our delightful Catherine and the same gasping drama over the Gothic horror elements, played strictly for laughs. Thompson verges perilously close to going over the top at points, but is far too masterful to actually do so. Part of me wished this was a straight narration – and I really would like her to narrate all the Austen novels, please, when she has a moment to spare.
That's not to suggest I didn't enjoy the dramatised elements too – I did, very much. The young cast were largely unknown to me, since I don't watch much TV or film, but several of them have impressive lists of credits to their names already. Each turned in a fine performance here with no weak links in the chain.
The role of Catherine is vital, and Ella Purnell does an excellent job in portraying the youthful naivety that sometimes leads her into foolish behaviour. She brings great charm to the role, with the same infectious good humour that makes Catherine such a likeable heroine on the page. Henry, I always feel, is a harder role to pull off, since frankly he's so patronising to our lovely Catherine and his sister Eleanor that I often have an uncontrollable desire to hit him over the head with a well-filled reticule. So I was very impressed with the way Jeremy Irvine was able to navigate that aspect with such a degree of warmth in his tone that I found it easy to forgive him and to understand Catherine's attraction to him. (And bear in mind, girls, that I didn't even have the advantage of being able to see him... except perhaps in my mind's eye... ;) )
Douglas Booth and Lily Cole are both nicely unlikeable as the baddies John and Isabella Thorpe (Boo! Hiss!), Booth managing with aplomb all John's boastful silliness about his horses and so on, while Cole drips delicious insincerity with every word. As the sensible one, Eleanor Tilney can tend to be somewhat dull as a character, but Eleanor Tomlinson gives her some much needed vivacity, while in the big dramatic scene near the end, she brings out beautifully all her distress and embarrassment. My other favourite is Mrs Allen, played by Anna Chancellor. Again she can be a tricky character; her rather silly empty-headedness and obsession with clothes could easily be annoying in the wrong hands, but Chancellor brings out her affectionate nature and the true warmth of her feelings towards Catherine, and the script is very humorous at showing how she allows her husband to form all her opinions for her.
Directed by Catherine Thompson, the production itself is fun with all the appropriate sound effects of carriages rattling along the roads, dramatic music for the Abbey horror scenes and delightful dance music during all the various balls. The balance between narration and dramatisation is good and I find this format works particularly well for audio – better than either alone for me. The bursts of dramatisation hold my attention in a way that an unbroken narration, however good, sometimes doesn't; while the narration gives an opportunity to hear the author's voice and fill out the background that's sometimes missed when a book is reduced completely to dialogue. The script too, by Anna Lea, is excellent, sticking as it should entirely to Austen's own words. I felt it had been a little abridged, not just for the linking parts in the dialogue to make it work as a dramatisation, but also in some of the narrated parts. But if so, the abridgement is done smoothly and none of the important elements have been cut.
So another excellent audio drama from Audible, who seem to be producing more and more of these, and casting them with some of our top performers. Keep them coming, I say! And as for this one – highly recommended!
NB This audio drama was provided for review by Audible UK via MidasPR.