Northern Mummy

General thoughts and wittering about all sorts of things

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by Hank Green and Bernie Su (Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge: April)

on April 30, 2013

pride-prejudice-bicentenary-challenge-2013-x-200Oh, my goodness!

I really don’t know how to begin a post on something which has been so new to me in lots of ways, and has covered so many different modern media.  What would you even call it – a TV programme?  A social media experiment?  An internet tribute to a classic novel?

Described on its own website as “an online adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice“, The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is all of those things and – without wanting to sound too clichéd – many more besides.  When I first “discovered” it, via an organisation I follow on Facebook, it was already half-way through and it took me weeks to realise just how far-reaching the contributions and updates were.  What I first encountered was essentially a TV programme, broadcast via YouTube in short, twice-weekly episodes typically lasting between 2 and 5 minutes.  (You can read my initial responses here).  I also discovered that there had been spin-off webisodes featuring blogposts from Lydia Bennet and Maria Lu (sister to Charlotte, the LBD version of Charlotte Lucas) and that various social media sites (Facebook, tumblr, etc) had pages concerning the show.  There were twitter accounts for just about every character but I did not realise for a very long time that reading and following these would enhance the experience, as the characters posted comments and photos and held conversations with one another which expanded and furthered the story (I was never very good at following these as my activity on twitter is sporadic and I’m not very good at isolating the accounts I want to read, but I did manage to catch up on occasions via storify).

Whatever I might have said in the past about post length, to describe in detail the LBD universe would take more space (and time) than I have here, and there’s also the spoiler issue for those of you who haven’t yet experienced this for yourself and might like to (there are plenty of other places on the internet to look if you’d prefer the concise spoiler version to the full experience!).  So here I intend to provide a brief summary and talk about some of my favourite elements and points of interest.

Lizzie (I know, but it’s a modern-day adaptation, and after a while you get used to the spelling) Bennet is a grad-school student in America, studying mass communications.  The vlog diaries which constitute the episodes are a project, produced with her lifelong best friend Charlotte Lu.  In the early episodes the viewers also meet Lizzie’s elder sister Jane, who works in fashion, is kind, generous and softly spoken, and their younger sister Lydia, who lives life to the full, eschews any kind of serious activity and isn’t afraid to speak her mind (as I mentioned in my previous post on this series, Mary and Kitty are present but it cousin and cat form respectively).  The rest of the characters referred to in their conversations are portrayed in “costume theatre” moments, in which Lizzie and any of the other three who are on hand don particular garments and accessories to represent the people they have met.  Lizzie begins her vlog just as a local house has been sold to a wealthy single man, which has excited Lizzie’s mother whose ultimate aim in life is to subscribe her daughters to the “2.5 WPF club” (2.5 children and a White Picket Fence).  The way the first line of the novel is incorporated into the video is ingenious!  Via costume theatre we’re introduced to her parents, then to the new owner of the house – Bing Lee – his sister Caroline and his friend Darcy whom they meet at a wedding.  Some characters eventually appear in the flesh (there’s a wonderful on-going joke about what Bing thinks is going on), whilst others, such as Lady Catherine, never do.

As time goes by, just as in the novel, Lizzie sees Jane become involved – and then much less so – with Bing, Charlotte move away to be with Mr Collins (although not in quite the same way as in Austen’s version!), Darcy being pompous and irritating, George Wickham being charming but rather shallow and her mother being obsessive and neurotic.  She visits Charlotte, meets Darcy’s friend Fitz and ends up in the same, very surprising, conversation with Darcy.  She spends time at home feeling the loss of both Jane and Charlotte.  She goes away again for an internship with Pemberley Digital (oh yes, it’s a real company now) where, of course, she becomes better acquainted with Darcy (the boss) and his sister Gigi.  Just when it’s all starting to go better she has to return home in a hurry when a terrible crisis occurs concerning Lydia.  Eventually the story reaches similar (but not identical) conclusions to the novel and Lizzie decides to wrap up her vlog at episode 100.

What impressed me most about this series is undoubtedly the way in which the writers have moved away from the recent fixation with the Lizzy/Darcy romance.  As I said in a previous post, Pride and Prejudice is Lizzy’s story, which includes her relationship with Darcy, but also her relationships with her parents and sisters, the development of her understanding of the way the world works and her growth to more maturity of outlook and opinion.  All of this can be found within The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.  It’s been said often, all over the internet, but it’s certainly true that one of the best decisions the makers made was to confine Darcy to costume theatre until more that half way through the series, despite the repeated pleas from the growing fan-base for him to make a personal appearance.  In Pride and Prejudice we often see Darcy through Lizzy’s eyes, especially earlier in the novel, and so it’s right that this should be reflected here.  The costume theatre device was a wonderful way of recreating that (Charlotte and Jane even draw our attention to this in Episode 15: Lizzie Bennet is in denial), so we don’t get to see Darcy for himself until her own views begin to change.

The other most impressive element was the treatment of Lydia’s disgrace.  Clearly a girl running away with a young man who isn’t her husband, whilst concerning for her family, isn’t going to garner much in the way of long-term social disapproval in the twenty-first century.  The writers approach to updating what happens (I really, really don’t want to spoil this for people but if you want to know without watching the series then Wikipedia is your friend) is perfectly conceived and the use of the internet for Lydia’s spin off vlogs leading up the the crisis (powerful acting, especially if you’ve been in, or know someone who has been in, that kind of relationship), for the problem itself, and for its resolution, fits so well.  The change it all brings about in Lizzie’s relationship with Lydia is lovely, and adds an extra element of realism to the updated version for a time when family relationships are more intimate and informal and we talk more openly about our feelings.

What makes this series so different from other adaptations is the fresh and spontaneous feel.  Part of that is the way the videos are edited (“the video feels more authentic when it’s not too polished”, as Charlotte tells us in an early episode) but much of it is the script and the way that the vlogs fit together with other elements of the adaptation, such as Gigi’s Domino videos, which are ostensibly intended as a demonstration of Pemberley’s new product but actually become the means for something much more significant, and the twitter posts.  Seasons of the year (summer, Thanksgiving, New Year) are mentioned as the series plays over the course of a real year which makes it all the more believable (if you start watching it now at 2 episodes a week it would probably work out right again, actually, although I defy you not to keep watching once you’ve begun!).

I’d like to give balance to this review by saying something more critical, but I really don’t have a bad word to say about it!  It’s obviously possible to dismiss it as teenage candyfloss, not worth any serious attention – it was on the internet, for goodness’ sake! – but actually the acting is good, the casting is good (Laura Spencer is my new favourite Jane!) and it’s all so much fun it would feel churlish to find fault.  Its credibility was borne out when the DVD set was advertised on Kickstarter and 100% of the funding was pledged within three hours (some of the money will be ploughed into the next project, which I’m eagerly awaiting!).  It has introduced me to to a whole new vocabulary (probably one I’m far too old to be using!) where “fangirl” is a verb (as in “fangirling so hard over this”), “awesome” is a noun (“check out the awesome and the adorbs!”) and “shipping” has nothing to do with P&P and everything to do with rooting for two characters to form a romantic relationship!

My summary is a quotation from this article:

So thank you Lizzie Bennet Diaries, for reminding us why we love Pride and Prejudice so much. You have breathed new life into a story which didn’t need it, but has benefited greatly from it all the same.

Some things were different, some things were left the same, but every decision was appropriate and well-executed.  I’m really glad I found it.

If you’re interested, prior to the commencement of the next main project, a mini-series called Welcome to Sanditon, featuring Gigi Darcy, will be broadcast in May.

Thankful for…

Wonderful friends to meet with, eat with, chat with and pray with

The recent sunny weather – long may it continue!

My children settled in new clubs and projects

The prospect of a public holiday next week

A lift in energy from a change in diet

Good news about some household repairs we require


2 responses to “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries by Hank Green and Bernie Su (Pride and Prejudice Bicentenary Challenge: April)

  1. Phoebe says:

    I’ve just finished The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and completely agree with you, especially about the Lydia storyline. Mary Kate Wiles is fantastic – made me cry during the Wickham storyline!

    • northmum says:

      Thanks for commenting! Yes, I know what you mean – I had to keep reminding myself it was just a story as I found myself getting really worried about her!

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