Millennials have erased period drama

In 1996, Emma Thompson gave one of the greatest acceptance speeches of all time. After winning the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay for her adaptation of sense and sensitivityShe decided to imagine what Austen himself would say if she were there.

The film’s producer, Lindsay Doran, said she was “an enchanting companion who there isn’t much good to say about.” Kate Winslet was “beautiful of face and spirit”. And Thomas? Well, she was a “Hoyden” woman who “stole my creation and added things of her own. Shameful creature.”

It was an acceptance speech that exemplified the spirit of adaptation itself. In Thompson’s journals from the making of the film, she offers an insight into the meticulous approach of the team. The cast went through intense rehearsals, learning contemporary etiquette and movement, while Thompson agonized over line breaks, spent her evenings studying Austen’s letters, and rejected requests from producers to “romanize” her script and sell it as updated sense and sensitivity – “I said if that happens, I’ll hang myself,” she writes. “Disgusting idea. Beyond rebellion.”

It was a sophisticated, specific approach. At the heart of it all was Austen, with her searing wit, unexpected moments of cutting humor and wry observations about society.

This was the standard for Austen fittings at the time. The ’90s offered something of an Austen renaissance, with a number of other meticulous adjustments including pride and prejudice (1995), conviction (1995), Emma (1996) and Mansfield Park (1999).

Emma Thompson and Hugh Grant in a ’90s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility (Photo: Columbia Pictures/SEAC)

Fast forward two decades and a new breed of historical drama takes over. Accuracy and precision are increasingly uninteresting to contemporary filmmakers. Instead, the focus seems to be on appealing to a young, modern audience. From the language to the costumes to the sets, forays into Austen country such as sand tone (2019), Emma (2020) and the one inspired by Austen Bridgeton (2020) are becoming increasingly stylized, exaggerated and fantastical.

In the trailer for the remake of convictionwritten by Ron Bass (My best friend’s wedding, Rain Man, trap) and Alice Victoria Winslow (a relative newcomer), released last week, sent the internet into a frenzy. It was out of place fleasack-Old-time camera looks and faux-speech interspersed with lines straight out of a 21st-century rom-com.

The trailer begins with a perfectly groomed Dakota Johnson while Anne pets a rabbit and grins for the camera. “I almost got married once,” she sighs. Aside from the empire waists and ties, the rest of the trailer plays like your typical Netflix romantic comedy. Anne gets caught up in several made-up circumstances in her attempt to win back her “ex” (the trailer’s word, not Austen’s) such as talking to him with a mustache on her face. So strange! So relatable!

Austen fans were confused. “What the hell is this?!” wrote one Twitter user. “Did the creators even bother to read the book before making this ‘adapt’?” joked another.

With historical accuracy and the ghost of Austen out the window, the trailer’s candy-colored fizziness begs the question: Is this the Gen Z verification of Austen?

The question here isn’t whether it’s okay to modernize Jane Austen. Of course it is – it must be. An adaptation with modernized historical music, costumes and language allows the filmmakers to bring their stories to a new generation in a way that resonates with them. And it allows for a long overdue diversification in casting. But it shouldn’t mean eliminating the essence of the source material entirely.

Austen wasn’t just a B-list rom-com writer, churning out digestible love stories. Her novels contain beautifully told, heartfelt romances highlighted by her sly voice and innate understanding of the human psyche. in the conviction, Austen wrote: “Now they were like strangers; no, worse than strangers, because they could never get to know each other. It was an eternal alienation. When he spoke she heard the same voice and recognized the same spirit.”

In the new adaptation, this poetic crystallization of the pain of losing a great love has been transformed into: “Now we’re worse than ex-boyfriends. We are friends.”

From left Dakota Johnson as Anne Elliot, Izuka Hoyle as Henrietta Musgrove, Nia Towle as Louisa Musgrove and Mia McKenna-Bruce as Mary Elliot in the Netflix version of Persuasion (Picture: Nick Wall/Netflix)

Even in the heyday of the accurate Austen adaptation, concessions had to be made and archaic phrasing had to be dispensed with. “The language of the novel is complex and much more mysterious than in the later books,” Thompson wrote in her journals, which were published with the screenplay. “In simplifying, I’ve tried to retain the elegance and wit of the original, and it’s inevitably more sophisticated than modern language.” It’s a far cry from the writers who came up with a line like, “Now we’re worse than.” exes.”

Austen was also a sinfully keen observer of society. Her prose captured the delicate and absurd machinations that underpinned society. Perhaps this power of observation is what makes the creators of the new conviction thought they could get through the encapsulation fleasack looking at the camera.

in the fleasack, the gimmick was unusual and effective. It introduced us to a woman who felt detached from the absurdities of the world and acted as a sort of inside joke that established a knowing camaraderie between her and the viewer.

During Austen’s narration in conviction could be likened to a look-to-the-reader on a certain reductive level, when used by the sober and introverted Anne Elliot it becomes nonsensical.

Ultimately, using this trend turns the measured, introverted character from the novel into a clone of every other sassy, ​​clumsy, not-like-the-other-girls-it-girl. This is the heroine emerging in recent contemporary and historical dramas aimed at Gen Z and Millennial audiences. She’s a clumsy, sassy, ​​intelligent loner who’s part Fleabag, part Manic Pixie Dream Girl.

In the recent wave of historical drama we see something that transcends modernization. Under the guise of bringing Austen into the 21st century, the producers and writers of the latest series of period dramas appear to be more focused on following trends than capturing anything that approximates the complexity and poetics of the source material.

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The 2020 adaptation of Emmastarring Anya Taylor-Joy, was so stylized and goofy that many of the novel’s deeper layers were lost. sand tonebased on Austen’s unfinished manuscript, also tried to follow modern character tropes and trends, adding more sex and nudity à la Bridgeton to appeal to a new generation.

The effect is that it once again loses the weight of Austen’s writing. The overriding logic seems to be that what young viewers want from their entertainment is digestible, colorful and clickable content rather than anything with a lot of substance.

We’re now in the era where Twitter trends and TikTok algorithms dictate the feel of the latest Austen adaptation; when Austen is so disproportionately distorted that she’s almost unrecognizable. conviction isn’t a rom-com, a TikTok trend, or a pretty period drama GIF — it’s a complex, heartfelt tale that manages to capture and poeticize some of humanity’s greatest emotions. By distorting the source material into new Gen-Z inspired forms, the filmmakers are not only doing Austen a disservice, but also the audiences they seem so desperate to lure.

If Austen had scoffed at the 1995 sense and sensitivity for “stealing” her work, what on earth would she have to say about it?

Persuasion” will be released on Netflix on July 15

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