We continue our week-long celebration of Pride and Prejudice’s 200th anniversary with a look at a thoroughly modern take on Jane Austen’s classic. Warning to easily offended Austen purists: this article contains references to Tumblr and Vlogging…
It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone looking for an adaptation of Jane Austen’s most famous work will not have far to look. Okay, so the ones that immediately spring to mind might be the BBC miniseries and the 2005 Keira Knightley film, but those are just two (admittedly very big) drops in the vast, vast ocean of Pride and Prejudice adaptations. (Read our post on the many and various literary adaptations of Pride and Prejudice.)
If you’re a fan of the classic novel – or even if you’re not, actually – there’s probably a retelling of the story out there for you. Ever wanted to see Lizzie Bennet as a modern-day teenager? Prefer your Austen by way of Bollywood? Think everything’s better with zombies? Got a thing for vampires? Believe it or not, there are screen- and/or book-based variations of Pride and Prejudice that meet all those needs.
Not all at once, though. That’d just be weird.
But even in the midst of all of these adaptations, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has managed to carve out its own little niche in the Pride and Prejudice world. The concept is simple, but brilliant: Lizzie Bennet (Ashley Clements) is a video blogger (though vlogger is the preferred portmanteau), documenting her life in video diary format and putting it up on YouTube for all to see. Lizzie’s updated background feeds neatly into this; as a mass communications graduate student, the diaries tie into her academic interests.
However, the LBD – as it’s known to fans – isn’t a vlog; it’s a web series, with a whole team of people behind the writing, shooting, and marketing of each four- to six-minute episode. Created by Hank Green (of Vlogbrothers fame) and Bernie Su (writer for the web series Compulsions and Black Box TV), the show premiered on YouTube on April 9, 2012. And it’s been growing in popularity ever since.
Is this a surprise? Not really. While Lizzie is the central focus of the show, all the characters are convincingly established across Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. For the most avid and detail-oriented fans, this is basically a dream come true: not only do you get to watch Lizzie’s videos, you get to see other characters react to and comment on them, fleshing out the series far, far beyond Lizzie’s YouTube account. And you can watch it all unfolding on your Facebook and Twitter feeds.
Even with the boost of the premise’s originality, the sheer amount of thought that goes into each bite-sized video is incredible. The show’s format of ‘Lizzie talking into a camera’ might seem limiting, but the show’s production team have played around with this concept to fascinating effect. All the elements of the LBD are immediately recognisable to people familiar with Austen’s original story, yet cleverly tweaked in accordance with the present-day North American setting.
Lizzie, who lives at home while attending university, starts up the Diaries with the help of her best friend and fellow grad student, Charlotte Lu (yes, you read that right – more on that in a minute). Lizzie mostly uses the Diaries to talk about her family: crazy, marriage-obsessed mother; relaxed, distant father; her sweet older sister Jane (Laura Spencer), and her somewhat wayward younger sister Lydia (Mary-Kate Wiles).
Secondary characters are – at least initially – “acted out” by Lizzie, her sisters, and Charlotte re-enacting events and conversations that take place offscreen. And the writers take advantage of this by playing up “big reveals” of characters making their first in-person appearance in Lizzie’s videos (predictably, Darcy was a popular one).
‘But wait!’ hardcore Jane Austen fans and Pride and Prejudice devotees might be crying at this point. ‘What about the other Bennet sisters? Where’s Mary? And Kitty? And isn’t the character’s name Charlotte Lucas?’
Yes, yes, well spotted, Austenites. Since they don’t add much to the story, the less significant Bennet sisters are therefore relegated to the roles of cousin and cat (get it? Kitty?) respectively. And while a fully Caucasian cast makes perfect sense in Regency era-England, it translates… less convincingly, shall we say, into modern California.
Charlotte Lucas is therefore now Charlotte Lu (played by Julia Cho), and Charles and Caroline Bingley are now Bing Lee (Christopher Sean) and Caroline Lee (Jessica Jade Andres). Darcy’s name is changed from Fitzwilliam Darcy to plain old William Darcy (played by Daniel Gordh), presumably to avoid confusion with Fitz Williams (Craig Frank), the show’s gay, African-American take on Colonel Fitzwilliam.
And did I mention that the casting and acting are among the strongest aspects of the series? The casting and acting are among the strongest aspects of the series. All the characters have dedicated fan followings due to their convincing, layered portrayals of some of the most beloved characters in literary history – not an easy feat considering the vlog format, which demands specific acting skills.
In particular, Mary-Kate Wiles’ depiction of Lydia in her own spinoff line of videos is proving to be another stroke of genius on the part of the writers and creators, allowing canonically unlikeable Lydia to be displayed in a more sympathetic, well-rounded light.
Plus, Lizzie’s vlogging means that content she chooses to include in her videos is deliberate – and in some cases, this raises interesting debates about the ethics of sharing information online: should you be allowed to voice your opinion when doing so could have a negative impact on someone else? If people know they’re being recorded on film but don’t know how or in what context that content is being distributed, is it fair to mislead them? How can you keep personal content shared on the Internet from affecting your professional life? By depicting some of the events from the book, Lizzie is forced to consider all these questions – and does so by way of some very skilful writing and adapting.
Simply put, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is one of the most innovative, entertaining and high quality adaptations of Pride & Prejudice out there. It’s basically upping the ante for web series everywhere, and I for one definitely look forward to seeing more content produced through the medium of cost-effective yet creatively liberated web video.
You can head here to read all of our articles celebrating 200 years of Pride and Prejudice.