The Lizzie Bennet Diaries are a rare brilliant conceit of new, modern video diary take on the lovely Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice. I know I’m late to this party, but can’t resist a little public huzzah for it. Time for full disclosure: while I’m a 53 year old guy whose reading tends to run in science fiction, thriller/action and fantastical circles, I love all things Austen. I also seem to like a number of the modern takes on Austen, which is weird because I don’t normally like modern remakes. I enjoyed Lost in Austen and absolutely loved Bride and Prejudice (I dare you not to smile while watching Bollywood take on the Bennets). Of course, the golden standard by which all P & P productions must be measured is the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle version … “my dearest, loveliest Elizabeth”.
Before I dive into some potential light spoilers, let me make a few more general remarks. So why do I love The Lizzie Bennet Diaries? The casting is brilliant. I loved Ashley Clements from the first video, but it doesn’t end there. Julia Cho’s Charlotte was cool and convincing; her down-to-earth practicality also meant a little more push-back to Lizzie. Laura Spencer was as perfect as Jane is as a sister and it was fabulous to see some character growth. Mary Kate Wiles (Lydia) – what! – nailed it. Jessica Andres really had me guessing if Caroline was going to be nice after all. Daniel “awkward” Gordh was perfect in his mannerism. Christopher “too nice” Sean also had an opportunity to show character growth. I look forward to seeing Maxwell Glick (Collins), Wes Aderhold (Wickham), Allison Paige (“Gigi” – Georgina ) and Craig Frank (Fitz Williams) in other productions; really first rate work with terrific chemistry between the cast. Brilliant writing and beautiful choices in modernizing (more below). The comedy worked well. Finally, it is based on one of the best stories in the English language. So, if you haven’t seen them, do so. If you’re not an Austen fan, this is a beautiful way to get a sense of her, then read the book, then watch the Firth/Ehle version. Trust me, you’ll want to.
While this is a thoroughly modern rendition, the translations hold true to the spirit of P & P. Of course, we have to amp up the scandal; now it’s a sex video. I worry for the day when we are so desensitized that there will be no more scandal left. We’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. Until that day, however, Austen still speaks to us today with witty dialog and a brilliant eye into relationships. Each of the choice points where they moved to a modern take on this classic are brilliant -for example, Lady Catherine de Bourgh to VC, Darcy to CEO and Bingley, oops, Bing Lee, as an erstwhile med. student.
While they understandably had a smaller cast, I loved even those choices, like giving Caroline Catherine de Bourgh’s rant on Lizzie. Speaking of Caroline, I loved the transition from seeming friend to witch. I was even starting to wonder, while first watching this, if they were going to change her into a nice character. Lizzie’s portrayal of her mother was funny, if a bit bizarre that this slightly dysfunctional but Southern Belle was the Bennet sisters’s mother.
While I’m partial to Austen, I believe this is the best thing I’ve seen on the web. Yes I liked Dr. Horrible’s Sing-a-long. There’s almost nothing that Felicia Day is in that I don’t love. This series, however, most consistently keeps the bar high. I consumed the series in a long weekend; part of me is sad I didn’t follow it as it came out (how did I miss this?), part of me is glad I didn’t have to wait for each episode. The 100th episode was beyond bitter sweet – yeah, move on to new stuff, but what about me? I will miss this series, this cast and the writing and production of the series.