I’ve realised what it is that I ardently admire and love about period drama over modern drama: the storylines are so much stronger.
Shows like Suits and Gossip Girl are aggravating because they are about rich, white people who really have no limits to what they can do as characters. Instead they make up problems for themselves to make their lives interesting, and despite usually being portrayed as smart, make a lot of choices that are the completely dumb. They have safety nets, but refuse to use them; when there’s a choice between logical and illogical, they’ll always go with the idiotic option; they attempt to apply dated social norms on characters to whom they would never apply (see: rich, white people).
That’s why period drama is great. In the 1700s, you would have definitely had to marry some dude you weren’t that into because you were poor, or worse you’d miss out on hooking up with your slam-piece because you were poor. Getting preggers out of wedlock would have definitely ruined your life in the 1800s (think of those workhouses); and there was a good chance in 1918 you could have caught the Spanish Flu, died, and ended up being buried in an unmarked grave. Life was tough back then. What’s Serena van der Woodsen’s excuse?
In period drama, the drama is created by the rules and restrictions of the world that the characters live in, they’re pushed into making the most logical decisions their surroundings place on them. This is also the case for crime drama, medical drama, sci-fi, and fantasy, and explains why I find purely drama-driven shows set in modern times so infuriating.
A lot of the fictional novels on which period drama is often based – like Jane Austen, the Bronte sisters, Charles Dickens, etc – have also gone out of copyright, which means we’re getting crazy inclusions like zombies and murder mysteries in classic tales. I’m all for this.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is even making it to the big screen, with filming currently taking place, and due out in 2015. It features Lily James (aka Lady Rose from Downton Abbey) as Elizabeth Bennet, Matt Smith as Mr Collins (!), Sam Riley (who played Ian Curtis in Control – feeling okay about this) and Jack Huston as Wickham (Boardwalk Empire/American Hustle). Game of Thrones‘ Charles Dance and Lena Headley are also in the film, though it’s not clear who they’ll each play (hoping Dance will be Mr Bennett).
There have been a lot of excellent adaptations of Jane Austen novels, and particularly horrific ones too – I will never, ever watch The Lizzie Diaries which is set in modern times and features “vlogging” and a character called Bing Lee.
These are the eleven you should have seen already.
Mansfield Park (1999)
I hold a candle for Billie Piper and anything she is in, so I do quite like the 2007 TV movie version, but the 1999 version with Frances O’Conner is better. It’s also one of the few Austen adaptations that actually includes a somewhat graphic sex scene – oo-er. You’ll recognise plenty of faces, like a young Hugh Bonneville and the guy from Elementary.
Death Comes to Pemberley
This only came out on BBC One at Christmas time last year, and does a great job at picking up where the final chapters left off six years later. Wickham and Lydia (whom the original book says drop by their now-rich older sister’s places way too much and are always borrowing money) are at it again, gatecrashing the Darcy’s annual ball… and bringing a murder with them.
Clueless is easily the best modern day adaptation of an Austen novel, and probably the only one where it would work anyway because the main character is pretty well off. It also wins because of all of the gifs it has given us, and getting Iggy Azalea a world number one single.
Based on Jane Austen’s life as a budding writer, the screenwriter for Becoming Jane commented that the story of her encounter with Thomas Lefroy inspired Pride and Prejudice. There’s also a parallel or two with Persuasion if you see Austen as Captain Wentworth, and the Elliots as the Lefroys.
Goop might have ruined Gwyneth Paltrow for all of us, but in 1996 she was amazing and incredibly funny as Emma. Toni Collette is the naive, low born friend, Alan Cumming an insufferable vicar, and Jeor Mormont from Game of Thrones (James Cosmo) is a nice old guy.
Jane Austen’s final novel has only been adopted four times, so it was about time someone nailed it. Rupert Penry Jones should never appear out of period costume. Side note: It’s weird seeing Giles from Buffy being so mean.
Sense and Sensibility (1995)
By far one of the best adaptations – Emma Thompson won an Oscar and Golden Globe for the screenplay adaptation (watch her wonderful Austenified acceptance speech), receiving seven and six nominations in total, respectively – it spurred a renewal in popularity for Jane Austen’s works (previously, the last English-language period adaptation of Austen was in 1940).
Northanger Abbey (2007)
I don’t know about you, but I can’t really stand Catherine Morland. Having said that, this two million pound adaptation is pretty great. Featuring JJ Field as Mr Tilney, I’m becoming inspired to do a Top Ten on Jane Austen Adaptation Babes.
Lost in Austen
For all the fans who have daydreamed about being in an Austen novel, this is the perfect incarnation of their dreams. Taking cues mostly from the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice – which no one can ever top, the moment when she gets Darcy to jump out of the pond is *perfect emoji*.
Be warned, this film doesn’t really feel like it was made by Jane Austen fans and is epicly trashy. Watch it when you’re hungover.
Pride and Prejudice (1995)
Let us forget the abomination that was the 2005 film with Keira Knightley and Donald Sutherland (YOU CANNOT CHANGE THE ENDING, GUYS). As previously mentioned, this version can and never will be topped. What’s particularly awesome about this version is how just about every Mr Bennet line is directly from the novel. Colin Firth gets all the props as Mr Darcy, but Jennifer Ehle won a BAFTA (and our hearts) for the best performance of an Austen heroine ever.
Originally published 09 November 2014 on TheVine.com.au