The Regency aesthetic is back. Netflix's Bridgerton has embellished the era of Jane Austen with string quartet covers of Ariana Grande and Billie Eilish, becoming TikTok's latest musical project in the process. Meanwhile, in this post-folklore world, Greta Gerwig's Little Women was re-scored to Taylor Swift's "Champagne Problems." On TikTok, period pieces are being taken to new heights of modern sophistication.
At the intersection of the period aesthetic and modern pop culture, you can find Madelaine Turner (@madelaineturner). She's adapting 2000s movie classics into period dramas on TikTok. Approaching five million likes, her recent uploads have transported the characters and narratives of Mamma Mia and Mean Girls to the Jane Austen era.
"Truthfully, I've just been looking for an excuse to dress up like Lizzie Bennett since I was 11 years old," Madelaine tells me as we discuss her latest work: Jane Austen's Mamma Mia, which garnered attention for its original twist on the much loved ABBA jukebox movie. The TikTok sees Madelaine as an 18th century Sophie who makes the "scandalous discovery" that her mother has had "not one, not two but three romantic entanglements prior to [Sophie's] birth." Madelaine's attention to detail is exquisite: framed portraits and newspaper clippings of her three possible fathers, Colin Firth, Pierce Brosnan and Stellan Skarsgård, appear amongst era-appropriate props and accessories.
"I really nerd-out when it comes to fashion history," Madelaine details. "I altered an old dress I had in my closet to resemble the 'Regency' silhouette and was able to fake the rest with scarves, fabric and jewelry I had on hand."
So why Mamma Mia? "I was in a YouTube rabbit-hole and 'TheRoyal Philharmonic Orchestra plays ABBA' popped in my recommendations," Madelaine explains. "The first song that came on was 'Mamma Mia' and it was immediate. Like, 'Yeah, Regency era Mamma Mia. Duh!'" Madelaine's self-professed fondness of a "sweeping, beautiful narrative with tension and yearning" offered direction to the stylistic essence of Regency romances in her posts.
Madelaine's follow-up, Contemptible Ladies, took Mean Girls and transformed it into a Pride and Prejudice-style TikTok orchestrated to Missy Elliot's "Pass That Dutch." Floral decorations, pastel colors and slow-mo fans flutter in this period version of the 2005 classic. "Amongst unmarried ladies, there are three who preside over the lives of all others," Madelaine narrates as socks are pulled up high and bows are neatly tied. There is Kitty Smith (Karen Smith): "Pretty as meringue, just as much substance." Greta Weiners (Gretchen Wieners): "She knows everything about everyone, that is why her bustle is so large, it is full of secrets." Last but certainly not least, "mortal sin takes human form in Georgiana Reginalds" (Regina George).
Madelaine comments that the process of transforming Mean Girls into a Regency setting was made easier by the fact that the film's dialogue "is so iconic." However, she remarks that mastering the "blend between era-appropriate verbiage and keeping the essence of the quotes" is at the core of retaining a link to the original source material.
Mean Girls and Mamma Mia work better as period pieces than you'd think. "I find films focused on women and girlhood translate surprisingly well to the Regency era. In those works, you tend to see much more of a nuanced exploration of social hierarchies and interpersonal relationships — the same elements Jane Austen was exploring in her own novels," Madelaine clarifies. These stories of womanhood that resonate across centuries are the throughline of Madelaine's posts. As her TikToks gain in popularity, so does Madelaine's creative expectations: "As my projects get more and more ambitious, I've started buying costumes specifically for videos. The Mean Girls parody has been my most extensive to date. Total disaster zone of lace, flowers, fabric, ribbons and dresses for 48 hours!"
With her visual sensibilities somewhere between Sofia Coppola and Wes Anderson, Madelaine describes her style as "hyperactive and oversaturated." She is drawn to "punchy dialogue and dreamy montages," adding: "I'd like my work to take that energy and sparkle and ground it with a feminine softness and beauty." Madelaine's TikTok contributions are remarkable for both their visual effort and production value, as evident in one of her most popular uploads to the platform: The Anderson Guide To Surviving A Global Pandemic. Madelaine replicates Anderson's signature aesthetic with a seven-step guide to living through the pandemic, paying homage to the director's distinct symmetrical composition and refined color palettes. Although, on the topic of Anderson, Madelaine explains her approach to filmmaking is nothing like the director: "I'm very messy; very much 'get in front of the camera and figure it out as you go.' I shoot everything in my apartment, by myself; so the pressure to plan and execute in the way a typical film set would require is non-existent."
As a one-woman team, apart from the occasional collaboration with her brother, the heart of Madelaine's period drama adaptations are in her artistically quaint production. "My videos tend to have a bit of a lo-fi feel anyways, so I don't mind phone-quality footage," Madelaine states, adding that she enjoys "the creative exercise of resourcefulness." It is this resourcefulness that balances a homemade nature and the resemblance to her references: "it's such a rush when you realize that the thing that takes the scene to the next level is just hiding in your closet, or just needed to be hot-glued to something else!"
Although Madelaine's high-society visual style is sophisticated and imaginatively inspired, she originally began posting on TikTok to "combat quarantine isolation." Now, the platform has become her way to showcase short-form narratives and creative storytelling. The positive reception and innovative possibilities have given her a glance at "an entirely new career path." While TikTok is widely regarded as a social media app, Madelaine nods to how the platform can exist as "something between a portfolio and playground" where she can perform varying degrees of "experimentation with visuals/characters."
Refreshing much-loved movies of the 2000s by transplanting them into the Jane Austen era has established Madelaine as a TikTok auteur of feminine sensibility and the Regency aesthetic. Currently a screenwriter but with the "ultimate goal" to direct, she proposes that maybe, in the future, she'd be able to create "large-scale versions of what [she's] doing now."
On a final note, we discuss the possibilities of other movies that would make brilliant adaptations. Perhaps, The Princess Diaries? "I think there's so much to work with! As long as ideas come, I will make them... I just have to try to capture it before the spark fades."
Screenshot via TikTok