Mrs Wickham review – Austen spinoff sees despairing Lydia ‘banished’ to the north

Whatever came of Lydia Bennet after her two older sisters found their happy endings in Jane Austen’s social satire? Here is one imagined outcome for the youngest and arguably most rock’n’roll of the five siblings, whose fate is sealed after she runs off with the rakish cad, George Wickham (played by Johnny Flynn).

Sarah Page’s drama joins the literary trend for Austenian spin-offs in this Audible Originals production, which starts where Austen left off. Having married, she is “banished” she tells us in an intimate, confessional and somewhat despairing tone, to “somewhere called the North,” near Newcastle, to be near Wickham’s garrison.

Jessie Buckley, as Lydia, is every bit as spirited as Austen’s renegade but her fortunes really have taken a nosedive. In a recap that fills Austen initiates in on the backstory, she remembers how Wickham was paid off by Darcy following their scandalous elopement. Now living near Newcastle, the honeymoon is definitely over and a cruel, womanising Wickham has no more use for Lydia; her first conversation with him takes place while two other women are tucked up beside him in bed.

What’s more, the couple are in deeply in debt and shunned by Newcastle society. Even her favourite sister, Kitty (Emily Barber), stops short of visiting her for fear of bringing greater shame to the Bennets back at Longbourn. But Buckley’s Bennet is far too feisty to accept this downward spiral, so sets up a lingerie business from home, redecorates the house and gets herself into Wickham’s barracks to broker deals with his superior, Colonel Henry Moss (Fehinti Balogun).

Under the direction of Eleanor Rhode, this is a perfectly enjoyable “what if” that, at just over two hours, takes some time to take off and then putters towards its ending, but with enough entertaining moments to make it worthwhile.

Lydia sounds very modern – much like a 19th-century Bridget Jones – and Page’s story steers choppily between the Regency-era realities of an unfaithful marriage with no recourse to divorce that leaves a woman powerless, and the 21st-century need to provide a romantic ending in which love wins over all else. The latter requires a dramatic shift in Wickham’s rakish ways and gives us the happy ever after, but it may leave Austen fans utterly unconvinced.

• Available on Audible.