Okay so Jane Austen is not a gothic novelist, and her books aren’t remotely gothic literature that’d result in autumnal, spooky viewing, but Northanger Abbey comes pretty close. If you ask any of us, we will tell you that it’s always the right and best time to watch an Austen film adaptation. Autumn de Wilde’s Emma (2020) literally takes viewers through all four seasons brilliantly. But the best time to watch Northanger Abbey is now—especially if you’re anything like me and you’ve got a very low threshold for spooky.
Catherine Morland is an autumnal queen—she’s got all the gothic heroine vibes, really. And as a reader, an escape seeker, a fan of romance especially, Catherine Morland is one of Austen’s most relatable heroines. She is a mystery queen. While the film doesn’t necessarily have any fall foliage to gawk over, the English countryside is always a marvel to watch on film.
Austen’s Northanger Abbey is all about the mysterious romances within the story too. It’s Austen’s “darkest” romance for a reason.
And again, while Northanger Abbey doesn’t necessarily take us through foliage, the film’s darker tones make it just the catch for this time of year. Seemingly haunted estates, uncertainties, a grouchy old man, darker instances of society gossip, and most importantly, Catherine’s overactive imagination.
It’s the height of the story’s essence and just what makes the film such a downright spooky treasure even while it explores the world of romance through a beautiful happy ending.
In short, it’s all about the aesthetic, is it not? There’s a particular scene in the beginning where Catherine’s gazing out the window at night, and Jon Jones’ directing paints such a lovely autumnal night. With a number of scenes taking place at night, lit only by candles in the room or lamp posts when they’re outdoors, there are darker elements to the storytelling in Northanger Abbey that extend beyond the obvious conversations. The lighting and the performances even paint quite the picture.
Plus, Catherine’s comment about “so many people. I wonder who they can be and what their stories are” screams of mysteries and quiet contemplation, not in the whimsical sense that all Austen’s heroines possess, but through a more gothic tone.
While Henry Tilney is no Darcy with the stoicism, the spark of enigma that’s ever-present in JJ Feild’s eyes makes him the perfect leading man. He’s good and kind, but he’s no pushover; the stunning enigma in his demeanor and the way he carries himself makes him just the kind of hero to match Catherine’s dream novel hero brilliantly. If they wanted to go darker, I wouldn’t be mad at it, but exquisite nevertheless.
Feilds and Felicity Jones are the perfect scene partners in every way.
The heart, the intrinsic humor, and every ounce of the story’s progression touches on what I imagine gothic romance should. (Although I’m no fan of them personally, Northanger Abbey is my one and only, so this might be biased a little.)
And then there is, of course, literally every scene that takes place inside of Northanger Abbey. The very kind of house I personally would never want to stay in alone. In Mr. Tilney’s words, “All houses have their secrets, and Northanger is no exception.”
In short, Northanger Abbey is a delightful gem, but there’s just something different about watching it this time of year. A specific fall-scented candle lit, a hot drink of choice perhaps, and all the lights out—while watching the film during the rest of the year is a marvel too, it’s an experience of sorts digging into it during the spooky season.