Adapting books, especially classic books, to the silver and small screen has never been easy. On one hand, those who do not really read books are glad that they can finally have a taste of what the story is before they start reading it, and on the other hand, we have fans of the books themselves who, more often than not, have high expectations of the movie, TV or web series.
In the past few years, aside from television and movies, the web series has emerged as a new way of presenting a show. It started out mainly with DIY videos and video blogging, and now, it has ushered in a new whole world of entertainment.
As of late, there has been a new movement when it comes to the web series—having a web series adaptation of timeless literary classics. It came to people’s attention when The Lizzie Bennet Diaries was launched as a web series remake of Jane Austen’s classic, Pride and Prejudice in 2012. This was an instant hit, as it transported the beloved characters of the Austen classic to the modern world. Here, Lizzie (Ashley Clements) is a 24 year old Journalism grad student, who chronicles her life on her web blog. And of course, yes, the entire series does follow the main story.
Another reason why this series was very successful was that it operated on a mixed media platform- the characters themselves had Twitter accounts, and had spin offs, such as The Lydia Bennet Diaries, featuring Lizzie’s sister, Lydia (Mary Kate Wiles). Another reason would be the emotions that the viewer goes through throughout the series, most especially as we all know what is going to happen.
What keeps the show fresh, though, are the wonderful twists that the show’s writers put in. Who would have thought that Charlotte would join Mr. Collins’ company instead of marrying him, as it was in the book; that Mary Bennet, instead of being one of the Bennet girls, is one of their cousins; and the rich Catherine de Bourgh is a venture capitalist, who instead of funding Mr. Collins’ vicarage funds his company?
Another on-going series is Emma Approved– a modern take on Jane Austen’s favorite matchmaker-Emma. We have seen Emma remade time and time again, from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Emma, to Romola Garai’s take on Emma in the BBC version of Emma, and of course, Alicia Silverstone’s take on Emma as Cher in the cult 90s movie, Clueless.
Here, Emma Woodhouse (Joanna Sotomura), is a relationship and lifestyle coach, and an event planner, alongside her old friend, business partner and brother-in-law, Alex Knightley (Brent Bailey). Along the way, (all the while following the main storyline of Emma), we follow Emma as she plans events, coaches and sometimes meddles in her family’s, friends’ and colleagues’ lives and love lives. Here, we find beloved fun, quirky and beloved Emma characters, such as Harriet Smith, Emma’s protégé and assistant; Senator Elton, a high profile client; political social activist and colleague Jane Fairfax and the charismatic entrepreneur Frank Churchill. As with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, the characters do have their own Twitter accounts, and there is also an Emma Approved blog, that not only features the series’ videos, but articles written by the characters, and a fashion blog. The creators of this particular series went a step further by actually launching a real-life bachelor/bachelorette charity auction for human rights, which wrapped up recently, featuring the characters (Emma, Jane, Alex and Frank), themselves. Again, what keeps the viewers coming back for more are fresh takes at Emma’s trials and tribulations as she does her job, which are all documented for the world to see as she documents everything for a documentary for ‘posterity’ and for when she achieves her ‘lifestyle excellence award’.
As with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, Emma Approved gives viewers, both fans of the books, and those who aren’t with a wonderful treat. The modernized characters and situations are faithful to their literary counterparts, and the characters themselves are very much easy to relate to. For the fans, each episode leaves us at the edge of our seats, as we look forward to how the writers will modernize each twist and turn in the stories. For those who are not fans, they are entertaining, and it gives them a taste of the books themselves. Also, each episode is not more than ten minutes long, and can be easily watched on YouTube.
The actors in both The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved are wonderful, as they are able to embody and personify each of the characters, up to the littlest quirk and nuance. Yes, they are modernized versions of the characters in the books, but they are faithful to the very essence of what they are. The dialogue is fresh, witty and faithful to the stories themselves and the sets- whether it be Emma’s girly office, or Lizzie’s bedroom- are very telling of the characters themselves. With Emma Approved, one thing to note here are the costumes or the clothes that the characters, specifically Emma, Harriet, Jane and Caroline are very much in line with the characters, and can be seen as fashion posts on Emma’s blog.
The Lizzie Bennet Diaries and Emma Approved have pioneered a new trend of entertainment that is enjoyable, as well as educational. Hopefully these adaptations will draw those who might be interested in classic works such as Jane Austen to the books themselves. As for me, I look forward to every curve ball that each new episode brings, and I look forward to the future adaptations and shows that will come thanks to these.
Note/s: The Lizzie Bennet Diaries won several awards, and the creators have launched two new bonus episodes, and a book called The Secret Diary of Lizzie Bennet.
Emma Approved is still ongoing, and is updated with two new episodes per week on Mondays and Thursdays.
Pemberley Digital has also released another Jane Austen adaptation, Welcome to Sanditon, featuring Gigi Darcy of the Lizzie Bennet Diaires, and is based on the novel Sanditon.
This fall, Pemberley is releasing a releasing a non-Austen web series adaptation, entitled Frankenstein MD, based on Mary Shelley’s classic Frankenstein.
Another production company, EpicRobot TV has also released a web series, based on J.M. Barrie’s Peter Pan, called The New Adventures of Peter and Wendy, which is updated on Wednesdays and Fridays.
Another less known web series adaptation is The Autobiography of Jane Eyre, based on Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte. (This last one is quite different from the others, as it really looks like an actual, unpolished video blog, and I have a feeling that that was what the creators were going for).