Downton Abbey meets the internet in the innovative new web series The Lizzie Bennet Diaries. This modern reboot of Pride and Prejudice envelops the viewer in the romance and twisted fate of the Jane Austen novel in a whole new way: remade in the guise of a personal vlog.
Austen’s five Bennet sisters have been simplified to just three; reserved Jane and wild Lydia frame the meddling moderator, Lizzie. Lizzie Bennet is a self-confident 24-year-old woman navigating the end of grad school, an energetic and marriage-crazed mother, and two sisters with lives all their own. Her older sister Jane is a sweet girl, but self-deprecating, keeping her emotional cards close to her chest. Lydia, a minor internet star herself, is a bubbly, social shopaholic. The cast is rounded out with a few recurring characters and some delightful caricatures. Lizzie’s parents, for example, never appear on camera, but are portrayed — like much of what happens in Lizzie’s off-camera life — through what she calls “costume theater.” For these plays, she, her friends, and sisters reenact previous conversations from bars, parties, or their own living room. The mechanism activates what would otherwise just be Lizzie’s exposition.
The modernization of the story has left most of the major plot points intact with a few twists. Marriage proposals are made into job offers and palatial estates are remade into start-ups. Regency era concerns are made new. Jane Austen’s liberation of female characters gave them choices in marriage; they could marry for practicality, equal temperament, or even love, but were cautioned to steer clear of too much emotion lest it be taken advantage of. The modernization of the plot observes the girls struggling with old problems in new ways. Take Lydia: with premarital sex no longer a cultural taboo, a sex tape surfaces and threatens to be released online. Austen’s Lydia is a girl who cares little about the repercussions of her actions, the disgrace she brings on her family, or the damage she does to herself.
While Lydia of the The Lizzie Bennet Diaries starts out equally frivolous and hardheaded, in episode 87, “An Understanding”, Lydia opens her eyes not only to the cruelty done to her by George Wickham but also to how her own actions have led to her vulnerability. The potency of the conversation between Lydia and Lizzie speaks not only about the actions of the plot, but to the online treatment of women as a whole, particularly the power of the camera in an age of pervasive video documentation.
The above is just one example of how The Lizzie Bennet Diaries keeps the audience aware of the complexities surrounding the Bennet story. Lizzie’s point of view is often challenged in ways that reveal not only Austen’s intentions, but the bias inherent to the genre of personal vlogs. It speaks to the online presence in all our lives and our over-sharing on it, by equal turns our lies and honesty in front of thousands of viewers. As Lizzie points out in episode 89, “For someone who puts so much of their life online, you wouldn’t think that secrets would be an issue. Who knew. Turns out that telling the internet isn’t the same as telling my sister.”
Aside from Lizzie’s perfect skin, coifed hair, and unnatural makeup making the whole thing feel vaguely unreal, the show is still a drama and the writing especially is prone to over-dramatization. Yes, the romantic coil of Austen’s writing is lost in the first-person intimacy of of the show, and yes, the tragic epic-ness can spill over into being sickeningly sweet, but the few over-the-top episodes should not turn viewers away. The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is newfangled with deep roots, beautiful, and well-constructed. Few remakes have captured the essential feeling of the source material while simultaneously having their own voices as well as The Lizzie Bennet Diaries does. The episodes, sadly, are nearing the end of the book, and while we don’t know yet how it will all resolve, here’s hoping there are more reboots to come.
You can view The Lizzie Bennet Diaries at lizziebennet.com.