20 Mar 2015

Austen Adaptations!

I've talked about the trend of adapting classic literature into webseries before. It's a trend that was started by Pemberley Digital with The Lizzie Bennet Diaries, and while I've been enjoying adaptations of everything from Shakespeare plays to 19th century children's literature, it's really the Austen adaptations that get my attention. With Project Dashwood recently hitting computer screens everywhere, I thought I'd talk about some of the currently airing Austen adaptations.

Elinor & Marianne Take Barton

Elinor & Marianne Take Barton is a production by students at the University of Warwick in England. I believe the webseries received funding from the Lord Roots Memorial Fund, but it still has fairly low production values. Based on Austen's Sense and Sensibility, the series reimagines Marianne as a literature student in her first year at university. I won't spoil it for you, but the writing team have come up with some interesting ways of translating the novel in a way that works for the 21st century. Rather than mirror the book, they come up with twists that produce a similar emotional response and hit the emotional beats of a novel. Relationships have been changed, and it really doesn't follow the storyline at all (I think that the show's only going to have around 32 episodes, which meant they really had to compress everything into a short time-frame). The early episodes are... interesting. You can really see the show trying to find it's own voice. It borrows a little from LBD with costume theatre, but that doesn't make an appearance beyond the first episode, from memory. The acting... there's a lot of hand-acting going on, to the point where I find it distracting. My drama teacher was constantly calling us out on the way we use our hands when acting (long story short: a) it takes a character's power away and b) it's distracting the audience from what you're saying), so now I get frustrated with the amount of times I see Marianne (and to a lesser extent, Elinor) wave her hands around.  Despite these criticisms, I do like the show. I am definitely not hate-watching it. It is incredibly well-written, and my frustrations with hand-acting aside, is well-acted. My favourite character in this series is, without doubt, Charlotte Palmer. While she is, admittedly, the kind of character you can only take in small doses, Sophia Pardon does a wonderful job of portraying a character that is true to the novel while really making it her own. I'm kind of sad that Margaret got omitted from this adaptation, but I understand why it was done. Episodes air every Friday at 5PM BST.

Project Dashwood

Another adaptation of Sense and Sensibility! This one has Margaret as the main character/narrator, which I found to be an interesting choice, given that she's missing from so much of the action in Sense and Sensibility. Really. I have friends who have read S&S and think there are only two Dashwood sisters. She really doesn't add much to the original narrative. In this version, Margaret is interested in film, and so decides it might be a good idea to try her hand at vlogging. I think the idea is that we get to see Elinor & Marianne's life through Margaret's eyes. The much-awaited adaptation only began airing three weeks ago, so I'm reluctant to critique it with so few episodes aired. I like what I've seen so far - I think Marianne and Elinor are very true to their book counterparts, and I like this take on Margaret. Co-creator Jessamyn Leigh made a scene-stealing appearance as Fran Dashwood, and I'm excited to meet the rest of the characters! Videos air Wednesday and Saturday.

From Mansfield With Love

From Mansfield With Love is an adaptation of Austen's Mansfield Park. After Frankie's brother Will - who is in the Navy - sends Frankie a video camera for Christmas, Frankie begins vlogging to show him her life at Mansfield Park. Produced by Foot in the Door Theatre, it has reasonably decent production values - the production values are not on par with say, Emma Approved or The Misselthwaite Archives, but the videos don't look entirely DIY, either. Whether this is because of clever filming or having some kind of budget as it's produced by a community theatre company, I don't know (I'm a regular participant in community theatre. Budgets for shows aren't THAT big). I like their take on Frankie! I like the idea that Frankie would be quiet and awkward around people she doesn't know well, and super snarky and outspoken with people she felt comfortable around (mostly because - I'm like that. I like seeing someone like me, someone I can relate to, on film. We all want to be the Lizzie Bennets and Emma Woodhouses of the world, but we're not. Some of us need to be the Frankie Prices). Given that Fanny Price is Austen's most controversial character, and many hate her for her apparent doormat characteristics, it's a surprising choice to adapt Mansfield Park, but not an unwelcome one. The producers are planning for the show to have 100 episodes and air until November 2015, so we're currently a little over quarter of the way through the show. Episodes air every Wednesday & Sunday at 5pm GMT.

Are you a fan of webseries? Do you think there's any Austen adaptation I've missed? Let me know in the comments or tweet me @WhatKimReadNext!

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