The Complete Jane Austen "Northanger Abbey" by Natalie Zee Drieu

Masterpiece Classic

by Natalie Zee Drieu

Oh how I long for bonnets to be in fashion again! After watching Northanger Abbey by Jane Austen, I fancy myself for a stroll down the streets of Bath, wearing a long empire-waisted dress, smartly cropped jacket, and of course, a bonnet with a big satin bow.

I first read this Austen novel right after high school and this new Masterpiece Theater version does a great job of capturing the essence of the book as well as having some of the most beautiful costumes I've seen in a long time. The screenplay is by Andrew Davies, who also wrote the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice (my absolute favorite with Colin Firth), as well as the hilarious Bridget Jones movies. Northanger Abbey is the story of Catherine Morland (played by actress Felicity Jones), the 17 year-old heroine who emerges outside her small English country home in order to experience the riches of life in Bath, England. It's here at a ball where she falls for Henry Tilney (played by JJ Field). Since this is an Austen story, love doesn't come easy and is complicated with love triangles, simple misunderstandings, and lots of secrets (maybe those bonnets were around for proper secret-listening acoustics). Catherine soon finds herself invited to Northanger Abbey, a grand gothic estate where the Tilney family resides. Catherine's love of gothic novels only spurs her overactive imagination while she's there. A series of dream sequences in the movie captures her imagination and it is both racy and cheeky at the same time. I thought those were done superbly to compliment the main storyline.

The movie is highly entertaining with a feast for all your senses, especially your fashion sense. I love Catherine's powder blue button front coat she wears through out the movie. It could easily be something in Marc Jacob's next runway show, no? The parade of adorable cropped jackets and puffed sleeves, remind me the new crop of clothing I'm seeing in boutiques now.

But let's get back to those super cute bonnets. Adorable! My husband watched this movie with me and was afraid I was going to start knitting myself one when I finished watching. I know they will never completely be back in fashion, so instead I decided to indulge myself into a fashion analysis of the beautiful bonnets in Northanger Abbey.

Northanger Abbry: Felicity Jones as Catherine Morland

Here are my top 5 favorite bonnets in order:

5. Catherine's bonnet when she arrives in Bath.
It's the first thing you notice when Catherine steps out of the carriage - that large brown basket bucket shape and it's shiny brown satin that matches the soft pink coat she's wearing. This bonnet sets the theme for what I'd like to call "bonnet watch" for the rest of the movie!

4. Isabella's bonnet when Catherine and her first meet.
Isabella's cream basket-style bonnet is a showstopper with its huge shape, beautiful texture, and a large cream bow detail in the back. This bonnet is actually larger than anyone else's in the movie, reminding us of Isabella's male attention seeking ways, when paired perfectly with her low revealing scoop neck dress.

3. Catherine's hiking bonnet.
I love this bonnet's simple hat style that gets dressed up with the enormous blue satin bow that is tied right under her neck, almost like she's a special package for dashing Henry Tilney. I also love this scene for its notion of "dressing up" for hiking with all of them in their full attire, even Henry Tilney wears a top hat. And yes, if you are extra sharp, you'll realize that Catherine also wears this when she's in the carriage with nasty John Thorpe earlier in the movie, but the bow takes on a much looser shape. I like her with Henry, so I like the hat better when she's with him. Work with me here.

3. Isabella's wide brimmed embroidered bonnet.
Isabella wears this on the way to Blaze Castle and also later at a soiree with Catherine. The straw wide-brimmed hat is tied together with an orange bow in the back. The surprise here is in the back of the head - detailed embroidery of colorful flowers is on the sheer gauze-like material. I think it may be linen.

1. Lavender crochet bonnet worn by Eleanor Tilney.
This is my absolute favorite! I loved how the bonnet was trimmed around the edge in pale pink yarn. The small adornment of pink flowers on top is a nice ornamental touch and complimented well with a soft pink satin ribbon. Set against the backdrop of the dewy English garden of Northanger Abbey, the fiber texture brings in warmth to the scene. I couldn't take my eyes off of it!

Keep a good eye out for all the bonnets that Eleanor Tilney wears. I could basically give that gal best-dressed honors for her bonnets alone. They are all done with different fabrics and textures such as laces and feathers, but never seem gaudy. There's just the right amount of trim and perfectly contrasting ribbon color. Simply heaven! So which bonnet is your favorite?


I have to say that I agree with your choices. The bucket styled bonnet(?) is deffinately eye catching, to say the least. I'm happy to have noticed that the bonnet's influence has made it's way into the mainstream. Maybe not in some areas as much as in others, but trends always take some time to travel from place to place. The cropped jacket and empire waist are making something of a comeback, so I can only hope that the bonnet soon comes back to the stage as well. If teens in Chattanooga Tennessee, of all places, are catching on to the old styles, I think it's only a matter of time before the next step in the fashon ladder is taken. At least, that's my hope. ;-)

I absolutely loved this movie!!! It was delicious!!! I love the actress that played Catherine she was so cute, the outfits were gorgeous, loved the bonnets too, but not sure where I would wear them....I love how the colours are so muted and pretty. Also Henry was HAWT.

Check out for very well-made, historically accurate bonnets from the Regency Era. They have a wonderful boutique of pre-made bonnets, you can order a custom made reproduction from a specific film, or even purchase a form, flowers and ribbon to create you own! They are recognized by the Jane Austen society and several of their beautiful bonnets have been featured in Williamsburg, but the prices are incredibly reasonable. Check out their boutique at

Jane Austen is rolling in her grave. Cultural and Historical norms were ignored; sections of the text erased with a large hand; scenes included that NEVER appeared in the book. I have loved Jane Austen since a young age, and was so pleased to hear that PBS was running this abundance of her works. I was dismayed by Persuasion (as shown last week) and embarrassed and distressed by Northhanger Abbey this week. Did the screen writers ever read Jane Austen? Friends have described it as "Jane Austen Lite", and have asked the question "When did Jane Austen write Harlequin Romances"? Thank goodness PBS is showing the real Pride and Prejudice with Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth - anything else and I would have had to fly to Winchester and apologize to Jane Austen at her gravesite.

I'm right with you there on Isabella's bonnet for the first meet. I loved that huge cream bow in the back. I couldn't stop looking at it. The ladies really knew how to create the perfect hairstyles to deminish the problem of "hat head" as well.

To add to Nancy Grace's comment, I think that there is way too much kissing depicted in the movies. Other than that I take the movies all with a grain of salt.

I have to concur with Nancy Grace's comments. I pity those who watch these "Austen-Lite" adaptations and assume that's what Austen actually wrote. They're being cheated out of fabulous literature, and more's the pity, they'll never know it because they feel no need to read the books now that they've seen the "movie!" I will say, though, that while last week's Persuasion was horrid, this week's Northanger Abbey was only a slight disappointment. It could be that I had prepared myself for the worst, or it could be that Andrew Davies had a hand in the film. You simply cannot do Austen justice in an hour and a half!

The bonnets were lovely, for the most part, as were the dresses.

Forget the bonnets! I couldn't get enough of the headbands that Catherine wore in her hair. The more I think of it, I liked all of the hairstyles that I saw in the film. With the popularity of headbands today and my fondness of them, I am anxious to try them on myself.

I have to say that I enjoyed this adaptation of NORTHANGER ABBEY much more than last week's adaptation of PERSUASION. It was light and beautifully colored. Realizing that less than an hour and a half is hardly enough time to fully do justice to a Jane Austen novel, I want to see what I'm missing out on in the literature. I felt that this film did a great job of whetting my desire to read the novel.

A lot of Austen's literature is very witty and that's extremely difficult to translate to the screen unless you have a voice-over which then interferes with the watching. I'd hope that people who enjoy the screenplays will be inspired to read the books.

My favourite bit about Northanger Abbey are the references to the 1790s Gothic Romance, Mystery of Udolpho, which is what inspires the 'terrors' in Catherine Morland. The book is tricky to read, but as daft as Catherine's reading of the situation at Northanger.

As a man who is fed up with the boring clothes we get lumbered with, I recall watching Cyrano De Bergerac for the clothes too, but the Regency bucks clothing is also more interesting than menswear now.

Nancy, please don't worry. I agree with you about them erasing large sections of the book and adding scenes, however Masterpiece Theatre will redeem itself in a few weeks by showing the version of Pride and Prejudice referenced in the review, starring Jennifer Ehle and a criminally hot Colin Firth. I am also a HUGE fan of Jane Austen and this is, hands down, the BEST on-screen version of her work ever made. Andrew Davies did a magnificent job because he was allowed the time to let the story develop on-screen so that you can see the nuances of the characters, as opposed to compressing the story into 90 minutes as they did with Northanger Abbey.

And if it's your first time seeing it, you'll laugh out loud at Mr. Collins. He's one of the best parts of the film!

Knowing that 90 minutes isn't enough time, I just had to willingly suspend my disbelief and just enjoy.

Hopefully PBS' the Complete Jane Austen will entice many, many people to actually read her books and not just go find Emma with Gwyneth and Sense & Sensibility with Emma & Kate.

As for the bonnets? Your #4 ~ when Catharine and Isabella first meet, Isabella's bonnet is simply gorgeous.

All the people I've talked to (both at work and online) have said that this version of Northanger Abbey made them want to read the book. I have yet to hear a single solitary soul say that they don't need read it now that they had seen a "screen" version. So there is no need for graveside apologies to Jane least not just yet. We'll just have to wait to see what those new readers of Austen have to say once they get their hands on the real book, I suppose.

Personally I loved this version of Northanger Abbey and, although I would have liked to have seen the extra 30 minutes or so that I hear is on the DVD, I think everyone involved with it did a wonderful job. As for the bonnets, is it awful to say that I really didn't notice them? I did notice Catherine's beautiful blue jacket (which I see you also mention) and thought at the time, "Where can I get one of those?!"

Hi Austen Fans. Lori Smith, author of A Walk With Jane Austen, has a fabulous interview over at She Plants a Vineyard today. Here is the link:

Sorry. I just saw rule number 2. My apologies. I love the bonnets also and wish they would come back into style. I recently heard that they wore bonnets in Austen's time because they believed washing the hair too often could make them sick. I don't know if that is true, but I read it in the Insight edition of Pride and Prejudice.

I was distressed by the adaptation of Persuasion which sinfully simplified and altered the novel (Wentworth buys a house for our heroine!!! instead of installing her as his wife on the ship he commands? There are two other versions of Persuasion, and both of them are better than what was shown. No reason to redo unless your product is better...
As to Northanger Abbey, I cannot believe the narrative is as simple and full of holes as the presentation suggested. I hope that for Sensse and Sensibility, they will simply air the excellent film scripted by Emma Thomson. Why not?

My favorite Jane Austen novel is "Pride and Prejudice" and I want to recommend the 1985 dramatization which appeared on Masterpiece Theater. It was faithful to the book and each part was perfectly cast. If you are able to find it, I don't think you will be disappointed.

Thank you Laura for remembering the wonderful 1980's Pride and Prejudice dramatized by Fay Weldon with Elizabeth Garvie as Elizabeth. David Rintoul was an authentic Darcy. The "Colin Firth" version has too many scenes that Jane Austin never wrote...Darcy taking a bath, and Lady Catherine visiting in the middle of the night! Well it could be worse -- the Greer Garson, Sir Laurence Olivier verson was probably the worst ever.
Unfortunately PBS or the BBC put a 90 minute limit on this new Masterpiece series, and we are seeing cartoons of Ms. Austen's novels. When did Jane Austen become a Harlequin author?

This is a horrifying review! I really don't want to know how cute this woman thinks the bonnets are. Could we maintain some respect for the literary work and be saved the inanity of her opinions, please?

Now now C.D. Everybody is entitled to their opinion. I would have been happy to know what you thought of the presentation but you didn't say. As for me, I thought it was delightful.

Natalie, thanks for a fun review that wasn't afraid to focus on one of the less admitable luxuries of watching these films: lusting after the lovely clothing and hairstyles! For myself, I particularly loved the straw bonnets in Emma Thompson's version of Sense and Sensibility.

And, Lisa, thanks for the recommendation for the Timely Tresses site....I'll have great fun window shopping there! Now...if we can only get someone in the White House to set the style for wearing retro-bonnets......

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