The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Youtube web-series is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice that has expanded the world of Austen so effectively that we have fallen head-over-heels with the newly developed characters.
You won’t find any hate against the Pride and Prejudice source material here, we adore Jane Austen’s novel (not to mention Mr Darcy). But what The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has managed to do is improve on those supporting characters who Austen just didn’t have the space to develop in her original novel. We believe this in-universe expansion is only a good thing.
Given the choice between added scenes involving zombie hunting, added sex scenes, and expanded character development – we’ll take the third option. It’s not about “fixing” Austen, it’s about bringing this 200 year old story to a modern audience. These reinventions have been so effective by the team behind The Lizzie Bennet Diaries that there are four supporting characters who have been standouts in the web-series in a way that would have been impossible in Austen’s original novel.
While the diverse casting is wonderful, the most interesting thing about Charlotte is not how her surname has changed, but the ways her character has. For the first time, we can actually see that Lizzie and Charlotte’s friendship was based on more than mere proximity. Portrayed by the wonderful Julia Cho, we see Charlotte standing up to Lizzie at various points in the series, making their friendship both more interesting and more believable.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries have also striven to show Charlotte as a character in her own right. She is a successful woman in her new job, which is the modern twist on the Collins proposal. And Charlotte is also forced to take responsibility for the way she convinces Collins to offer her the job, an aspect which is usually left unaddressed. Their reunion is the better for these changes, and their relationship provides a grounding to the show and to Lizzie herself.
The development of Lydia has been the most dramatic (and often controversial) reinvention. Lydia’s actions provide the impetus for the entire final section of the novel, but usually we are only told that Lydia is the bad guy, shaming her family and being a general nuisance. We haven’t see the reasoning behind Lydia’s decisions, the hurt she feels after being left out by her older sisters, or the real attraction she has to Wickham – not until now.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries has not diminished Lydia. Instead, through some spectacular acting by Mary Kate Wiles, we see her slowly falling for Wickham and becoming alienated from her family. So can we blame her for her actions? In past adaptations (and the novel) the audience has been just as judgemental of Lydia as Elizabeth is. How refreshing to see an adaptation that makes Lydia’s journey just as important as Lizzie’s.
Caroline was an unlikely candidate for development, given her relative unimportance in the grand scheme of Pride and Prejudice. But suddenly in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, we understand the way in which Caroline subtly manipulates everyone around her, as shown wonderfully by Jessica Jade Andres. The decision to make Caroline and Lizzie friends has allowed Caroline to be a more powerful personality, using Lizzie’s own prejudices against her.
Making Caroline aware of the videos (while Bing and Darcy remained in the dark) gave her the trump card. Her faux friendship with Lizzie allowed Caroline to push her own agenda (spoiler: she wants Darcy), by being sneaky, pushy, overbearing and underhand. And she was surprisingly effective. Interestingly, one of the best episodes to date was “C vs. C”, which featured two generally ignored supporting characters – Charlotte and Caroline.
How do you approach a character who an audience is destined to dislike? After all, if fans weren’t aware that he would be the downfall of poor Lydia, it’s unlikely that his portrayal on The Lizzie Bennet Diaries would have been met with such vitriol. We know we aren’t supposed to like him, and we know (or we think we know) how his story will end up, so why bother with the pretence of innocence? He’s the bad guy, after all. Well – not quite.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries (and spin-off The Lydia Bennet) have gone to great lengths to demonstrate that there are two sides to each story, even to Wickham and Darcy’s. Wickham may be manipulating Lydia to some extent, but do we know that he does not care about her? The fact that we are even prompted to have these conversations is a testament to the work by the LBD writing team, and some superb acting by Wes Aderhold.
These four may have received the largest rewrites, but we believe that every character has benefited greatly from the close attention of the production team. Every character is treated empathetically, becoming much more than simply the props in Lizzie and Darcy’s drama.
Fitz Williams (Craig Frank) has become an unashamed ‘Dizzie’ shipper. Jane (Laura Spencer) has become a measure of self-awareness for the other characters. Gigi Darcy (Allison Paige) is not just the sidekick to Wickham’s story, but a wonderful character in her own right who is still being developed (now with her own spinoff on the Pemberley Digital channel).
Charlotte’s little sister Maria (Janice Lee) was instrumental in bringing Charlotte and Lizzie back together. Ricky Collins (Maxwell Glick) isn’t ridiculous, he is merely passionate about his work. Mary (Briana Cuoco) becomes a cousin who refuses to be Lydia’s last resort. And finally, while we haven’t yet seen a huge amount of Bing Lee (Christopher Sean), but we have big hopes that the closing arch of the novel will focus on his development as well.
And what about the big two? The developments made in the characterisations of Darcy and Lizzie warrant their own article, but it is safe to say that neither have suffered from the empathy shown to their surrounding cast. In a show that has taken pains to help us understand even the most minor of characters, Lizzie and Darcy both appear in the most accurate representations of Austen’s original characters that we have ever seen.
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.