Everybody in this world has seen at least one adaptation of Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, whether that is a novel-to-film or novel-to-TV series adaptation of the actual book or one of the thousands of "modern versions" (I'm thinking Bridget Jones's Diary here, but pretty much anything will do).
So today I present to you two modern-day adaptations of Austen's novels: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved. The former was the first of them to be developed: in 2012, Hank Green and Bernie Su decided to retell Austen's probably most famous novel setting it in our present in the form of vlogs on Youtube, each during some five to eight minutes at the longest.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries
Lizzie Bennet is a 24 year-old graduate student from California who decides to start a series of vlogs for her master's degree's final project. In them, she tells us about her life and her surroundings. Like in the novel, the starting point is the arrival of a handsome, single, rich gentleman to the neighbourhood (Bing Lee, in this version) and Mrs. Bennet's obsession with marrying her daughters into good, rich families.
While Pride and Prejudice's main focus was the importance of a good marriage as a woman's only goal in life, in The Lizzie Bennet Diaries Mrs. Bennet's obsession is played for laughs and the problems that the Bennet sisters have are real, modern-day problems: college debt, finding a job after graduating, being the most popular girl in school, finding Mr. Right (that seems to be an atemporal thing)...
The story is narrated to us directly from Lizzie's point of view and through costumes and roleplaying: Lizzie drags her best friend Charlotte Lu, her sisters Jane and Lydia (Mary and Kitty are conveniently scripted off, although their characters appear in one way or another), and sometimes secondary characters who just happen to be there... even Bing Lee and Mr. Darcy himself.
Lizzie and Charlotte as Mrs. and Mr. Bennet, respectively
So, does it work to move a Victorian-era love story to a 21st century setting and characters? Oh, yes, it does, and very well indeed, Mr. Darcy. Obviously, changes had to be done: places like Netherfield and Pemberly, the mansions where Jane and Lizzie stay for a while and interact with the Bingleys and the Darcys, are now media companies; similarly, Charlotte's marriage to Mr. Collins is passed off as him offering her a job (which he had previously offered to Lizzie but, like in the novel, she rejects him); Lydia's scandalous affaire with George Wickham is... something very scandalous for today's standards. And so on and so forth.
Thanks to such changes, there are very few moments when the original elements of the novel feel forced. For me, the one thing that doesn't really quite work is Mrs. Bennet's obsession to see a man hanging from her daughters' arms no matter what, but I guess there still are people in the Western world who think a woman's worth is defined by her man. Meh... More on that another day.
In conclusion, if you're looking for a very funny yet touching version of the classic Pride and Prejudice, this is for you. Go watch the first episode. Now. Here you go, you'll thank me later:
After the huge success of The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the producers decided to go with another text by the same author with a similar format: Emma. Yet, in my opinion, this novel is not quite so well-known nor has it been readapted so many times, so that might be one of the reasons why it wasn't as popular as its predecessor.
Emma Woodhouse is a successful businesswoman: alongside her childhood friend Alex Knightley, she runs her business dedicated to event planning. Her speciality: matchmaking. She especially loves to use her talent on her friends, especially after successfully helping her best friend meet and marry the man of her dreams, so she sets as her new goal finding the perfect match for her assistant Harriet.
For starters, I have never read Emma nor seen any of the movie adaptations, so I have no idea how closely the producers stay to the source material or how faithful an adaptation this is and I can't judge the series based on that. I did go to Wikipedia to read a summary, which was helpful to see why each character has certain traits and why they do the jobs that they do, etc.
The main difference between Emma Approved and The Lizzie Bennet Diaries is that the idea of making a series of vlogs does not make so much sense in the former, in my opinion. Emma states that she is recording the videos in order to win a prize showing how awesome her job is and how much she helps people, or something like that. What we see is the unedited thing and that's how we get a kind of bigger, "raw" picture. This is not bad per se, but there's something about it that rubs me the wrong way.
The modernization, however, works pretty well, even if it's harder to relate to Emma's problems and social status: everybody, except for Harriet and the IT guy, belong to a sort of aristocracy (senators, business owners, etc.). However, the "romantic" part works because everybody recognizes love triangles, bad pairings, rivality, etc., and Emma's growth as a character and as a person is worth watching. Bonus points for Mr. Knightley.