Saturday, 23 March 2013

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (2012-13)

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is one of my all-time favourite books and I've seen several different adaptations of it: the 1940 film which starred Greer Garson and Laurence Olivier, the 1995 BBC miniseries which starred Jennifer Ehle and Colin Firth, and the 2005 film which starred Keira Knightley and Matthew MacFaddyen. I've also seen a few modern-day updates: the Bridget Jones' Diary films and the Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice. Now I'm currently going through The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is another modern-day update of Pride and Prejudice and it's taken the internet by storm. It's a web series that's told in the form of a vlog (a blog in video form). Each episode is usually about 3-5 minutes long and you can watch all of them on YouTube. The series was created in April 2012 by Hank Green and Bernie Su and it stars Ashley Clements as a modern-day Elizabeth Bennet. Elizabeth (or Lizzie as she's called in this) is a 24 year old student who lives in California and is studying for a postgraduate degree in Mass Communications - so with the help of her friend Charlotte Lu (Julia Cho) she decides to make a vlog as part of her dissertation. Most of the episodes are filmed in Lizzie's bedroom and in the early episodes Lizzie chats about her life, her family and her friends. Lizzie's sisters and Charlotte make guest appearances on the vlog as well. Then a rich and single medical student called Bing Lee moves into the neighbourhood. Lizzie's mom then makes plans to pair one of her daughters off with him, and, yeah, if you're familiar with Pride and Prejudice then you'll know the rest.

I'm usually very sceptical about modern-day updates and when I first heard about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries I really didn't think I'd like it. However The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is the best modern-day update I've ever seen - that hasn't been written by Steven Moffat of course! The updating of Jane Austen's book from 19th century England to modern-day California is extremely well-done. I was really impressed at how they managed to work in some of the plot-points of the book! The entailment of the house is now a threat about having to sell the house because of a family financial crisis. The Meryton militia is now a swimming team. Mr Collins is now a businessman and Catherine de Burgh is now his financial backer. Lydia is almost exactly what you'd think she'd be. She's now an immature, promiscuous, wild party girl type and is incredibly annoying in the early episodes. Yet Lydia isn't as bad in this series as she is in the book. In the book Lydia is a love-to-hate character and is responsible for her own downfall. Her selfishness and stupidity nearly ruined her family's reputation forever. In this series though Lydia becomes a much more sympathetic and endearing character than the Lydia of the book. Mary Kate Wiles gives a brilliant performance as Lydia and I actually felt really sorry for her character. This is quite an achievement given how much I dislike Lydia in the book and in other adaptations!

There are lots of other updates in this series as well but I won't go through them all. One notable difference though is that Lizzie only has two sisters in this series - Jane and Lydia. I'm guessing that this is because most families only have 2 or 3 kids these days. Mary (the real middle child of the Bennet family) is now the Bennet sisters' emo-goth cousin. Kitty is now an actual cat! She's the family cat who follows Lydia around everywhere just like Kitty does in the book. Poor Kitty. At least Mary still got to be the same species! It is a bit of a shame that Kitty isn't a person in this series but I suppose if you're going to leave any of the sisters out then it should be her.

Another thing that I really love about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is its fantastic casting. This is the only Pride and Prejudice adaptation I've seen where I actually like every single actor in it! I really hope that they'll be able to move onto bigger things on film and TV when this series finally ends. I also loved that all of the Bennet sisters had red-ish hair in this series. It really helped to make them look like sisters.

I'll give special mention to Ashley Clements in this review. She does a brilliant job and I loved her. She completely gets the witty humour, the charm, and the intelligence of Austen's Elizabeth and her impressions of Mrs Bennet are hilarious. *Jane Bennet's impressions of Darcy cracked me up as well* Clements has great comic timing and her Lizzie is very likeable. She is almost exactly how I would imagine a modern-day, American Elizabeth Bennet to be. The reason I say "almost" is because I found Lizzie a little bit annoying in some of the earlier episodes. This is because she's much too angry and harsh towards Darcy at times. Even before Wickham tells her that Darcy denied him his inheritance Lizzie goes into massive rants about Darcy and gets angry at the mere mention of his name. However, even though Lizzie isn't perfectly characterised in this web series I still loved her. I'll also mention Daniel Vincent Gordh who plays Darcy. He's very attractive, he and Clements have amazing chemistry, and I loved his portrayal of the character. In this series Darcy's character is rich, professional, socially awkward and has great fashion sense. The 11th Doctor would definitely approve of his bowties! Darcy doesn't even show up in this series until Episode 60 but the wait is worth it! I'm also hoping that Darcy will sing in the final episode because Gordh is a great singer in real life.

I think a big factor in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' success has probably been its interactive element. It has Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest and Tumblr pages and fans have been able to submit questions to the characters. Every so often there are Q&A sessions where these questions get answered - with the actors in character. How cool is that?! Another really enjoyable thing about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that it makes occasional references to other Pride and Prejudice adaptations and Lydia has a fake I.D. under the name Mary Crawford. A nice Mansfield Park reference there. In fact the only thing that's really disappointed me about The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has been Lizzie's relationship with her dad. In the book Elizabeth is really close to her father and she's Mr Bennet's favourite daughter. Mr Bennet is also a really funny and witty character. But in this series Lizzie barely talks about her dad at all and they don't seem particularly close, and when Lizzie does mention Mr Bennet his character seems really boring and not very funny at all. I think that's a real shame and I really don't understand why they changed that : S

The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is now coming to an end and its final episode will be shown on the 28th of March. The episodes have been put up on YouTube twice a week (Mondays and Thursdays) since April last year. I've been spending my last few weekends going through the episodes and now I've come up to Episode 98 I only have to watch two more. Now I'll be waiting for these final episodes to be put up and will be going through the Q&A sessions and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries' spin-off vlogs. Lydia has her own sporadic vlog series called The Lydia Bennet Diaries, Charlotte's sister Maria has a vlog called Maria of Lu, and Gigi (the Georgiana Darcy character) has a vlog called Pemberley Digital.

Overall The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is an extremely impressive modern-day update of Jane Austen's novel and its timing couldn't be better, it coincides with the book's 200th anniversary. I completely recommend this series, especially if you've read the book, and the series is a very worthy addition to the many other Pride and Prejudice adaptations out there. It's clever, entertaining, really funny, great fun and pretty darn inventive. It might not be the most accurate Pride and Prejudice adaptation out there but it's actually my favourite. I'd love Green and Su to make vlogs of other classic novels once they've finished with Pride and Prejudice. They could do a vlog about any of Austen's other works but I think I'd quite like them to tackle Louisa May Alcott's Little Women. I think Ashley Clements would make a great Jo. I'll end this review with Episode One of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries so you can get a feel of what the series is like : )

UPDATE: Now that I've finally finished The Lizzie Bennet Diaries I thought I'd watch the various spin-offs this weekend and I'd recommend them all. If you're only going to watch one of these though then I'd go for The Lydia Bennet Diaries which is the longest and consists of 34 episodes. You get to see much more of Mary and Wickham in that vlog, a little bit more of Jane, and at one point you even get to see Kitty. Lydia continues to get excellent character development in this vlog too. Ooh, here's a cool fact as well! Mary is played by Briana Cuoco who is the real-life sister of Kaley Cuoco (Penny from The Big Bang Theory). 

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