Tuesday, 21 October 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

Death Comes to Pemberley is a three-hour BBC miniseries and an adaptation of P.D. James' murder-mystery novel, which is a sequel to Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice. It was shown during the BBC's 2013 Christmas season and over three consecutive nights. 2013 was the 200th anniversary of Pride and Prejudice so I suppose the BBC felt they ought to do something to mark the occasion. In Death Comes to Pemberley, Elizabeth Bennet (Anna Maxwell Martin) is now Mrs Darcy and has been happily married to her husband (Matthew Rhys) for six years. They live at Pemberley and have a young son. As the Darcys prepare for an annual summer ball they're shocked by the sudden and uninvited arrival of Elizabeth's youngest sister Lydia Wickham (Jenna Coleman). Lydia is in hysterics. She claims that her husband George (Matthew Goode) has been murdered in the woods. When Darcy organises a search party and goes off to investigate, it turns out that it was actually Wickham's best friend Captain Denny (Tom Canton) who was murdered. They find a drunken Wickham sobbing over Denny's corpse and apologising for killing his friend. Unsurprisingly Wickham becomes the prime suspect. Darcy is then faced with the task of trying to save Wickham from being hanged in order to save his family from scandal. Meanwhile, Elizabeth finds herself being puzzled by some odd coincidences. She saw a mysterious woman in the woods on the day of the murder and her neighbours are caring for a new baby. Darcy's younger sister Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson) is also being romantically pursued by both her cousin Colonel Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward) and a family friend called Mr Alveston (James Norton).

I'd initially been interested in reading the P.D. James book when it first came out but I was put off after reading some very negative reviews. But I wanted to watch something over Christmas and I do love Jenna Coleman in Doctor Who so I thought I'd at least give its adaptation a try. Maybe it would be an improvement on the book? Well, even though it's very flawed I genuinely quite liked this miniseries! I still haven't read the P.D. James book yet and, to be honest, I'm not even sure if I will since many reviews of this miniseries that I've read have confirmed my suspicion that it's an improvement on the book.

Not everyone will enjoy this miniseries and I can understand why. Considering that Death Comes to Pemberley is supposed to be a murder-mystery there's actually very little active detective work going on in it. Essentially, Darcy goes to court and watches all of the proceedings there while Elizabeth aimlessly wanders around the Pemberley estate and finds a few random clues. Death Comes to Pemberley works better as a period drama. Also, Colonel Fitzwilliam! What did they do to him?! The colonel doesn't get a huge amount of page-time in Pride and Prejudice but he still seems nice and amiable. In this he's cold, manipulative, rude and deeply unpleasant. Why?! Has something happened to him over the years to justify this change? It's never explained :S

My other major issue with this miniseries was its lead actors. Matthew Rhys's performance as Darcy isn't anything special. As Darcy he's... competent. He's not brilliant, he's not horrible, he's just decent. Anna Maxwell Martin disappointed me even more. Martin is in North and South and I really like her in that but I think she was completely miscast in DCtP. This might sound harsh but I think she was too old and plain to be playing Elizabeth. Martin isn't unattractive but, whenever she happened to be stood next to the beautiful Eleanor Tomlinson or Jenna Coleman, all I could think was that she looked more like my idea of Mary Bennet or Charlotte Lucas than my idea of Elizabeth. Also, Elizabeth is supposed to be 20 in Pride and Prejudice which would make her 26 in a sequel set six years after the events of that book. Martin was 36 at the time this miniseries was filmed and I actually think that she looks older than Matthew Rhys! I didn't like Anna Maxwell Martin's acting in the role either. I saw none of Elizabeth's wit, liveliness, self-confidence or sarcasm coming from her performance. Her acting isn't bad but she never really managed to convince me that I was watching Elizabeth Bennet Darcy. Finally, why are Elizabeth's dresses so plain in this?! Elizabeth is the mistress of Pemberley and her husband has £10,000 a year. Surely she should be wearing some fine clothes?! Even Lydia gets prettier and more expensive-looking dresses than Elizabeth does!

It's a real shame that the lead actors couldn't have been better cast in this because its supporting actors are all terrific. Jenna Coleman, Eleanor Tomlinson, Matthew Goode, and James Fleetwood and Rebecca Front as Mr and Mrs Bennet are all perfectly cast! The production values in this are clearly high too. It's beautifully-shot and it was filmed on location at Chatsworth House. Fans of the 2005 Pride and Prejudice film will be especially delighted by this! The romance between Georgiana and Mr Alveston is sweet and engaging. There's also a very nice and subtle reference to Emma! In Episode Two, I think, Mrs Reynolds mentions that she's heard of a good boarding school near Highbury. I managed to miss this reference during my first watch!




Death Comes to Pemberley is pretty good fanfiction. Of course it never manages to do Austen's original book or characters full justice, but it's very enjoyable and is far better-written and acted than all of the other Pride and Prejudice fanfiction that I've come across (Lost in AustenPride and Prejudice and ZombiesAustenlandLongbourn). Fans of the book who aren't strict canon purists will probably find a lot to enjoy in this version. 

Rating: 3/5
Viewer Certificate Rating: 12

11 comments:

bookwormans said...

Thanks for the review! This miniseries begins this Sunday here in the US so your post is very timely. I've had fairly low expectations for it so it is nice to know that it is least fun to watch. It looks like my feelings that Anna Maxwell-Martin was miscast are justified, though I have a bit of a thing for Matthew Rhys so I'll probably give him a pass.

Hannah said...

Oh, really?! I did time that well then!

Exactly, DCtP isn't brilliant but it's a competent sequel to P&P and it is fun to watch. Are you going to read the book or do you think you'll give it a pass?

Sarah said...

Oh boy. This is coming on PBS here next Sunday, and I wish it wasn't, because I'll most likely watch it out of curiosity, and because of the cast, but I'm almost positive I won't enjoy it. Austen fanfiction, in my opinion, is guilty until proven innocent of being extremely disrespectful of Austen's work, and with the changes of character you mentioned like with Col. Fitwilliam, it doesn't sound very promising. And why does Denny have to be murdered?? But I'm so curious I don't think I'll be able to stop myself! Arg. :P

Hannah said...

Sarah - I *totally* understand your reservations but, why not just watch it? If you end up hating it then you'll never have to watch it again. And you might even be pleasantly surprised! Hehe, am I playing devil's advocate? :D

Anonymous said...

I wanted to enjoy this production,but all I could think of is that Lizzie is too old and ugly. The servant girls looked better kept than her! Why are her dresses so and hair so frumpy?

Hamlette said...

I read the book and have zero interest in seeing the adaptation. Elizabeth in the book was completely out of character too, hesitant and worried all the time. No spunk, no spirit, nothing. I've read much, much, much better books by P.D. James, and much better Austen pastiches as well.

Hannah said...

Hamlette - I'm sorry that this reply has been later than usual!

I'm thinking that I should cut Anna Maxwell Martin some slack then but I still think that she was too old and plain to be playing Elizabeth. I can understand why you're hesitant about this thing as well. I have heard a LOT of people say that they thought it was better than the book though.

Hamlette said...

Better than the book would be good, but still... I have more than three dozen movies that I own that are waiting on my TBW pile. Not to mention things I want to get from the library, watch online, etc. And I have about 4 hours a week to watch stuff. Not seeking this out any time soon.

Rakelpoo said...

Thank you for saying what I was shouting in my head while watching this miniseries. I have been watching this on NetFlix and felt immediately that Elizabeth's character was miscast but thought I would give it a try. I just couldn't get over the fact that it appeared as if Mary had married Darcy instead of Lizzy.
I feel this casting was unfair to Martin too. Putting her next to all the supporting cast, frumping her hair and clothing, just made her inadequacies stand out more. In this day and age too the art director, costume designer, lighting, and makup professionals could have really helped Martin appear less dowdy. It's a shame.

Margaret Speakman said...

I just watched this on Netflix. I agree that Lizzie character was horrible! Ugly and plain and no wit whatsoever. Poor casting. But the storyline was good. Just poor characters.....Darcy was also hard to believe as well.

Manette said...

This was just up on Finnish television, so I had the chance to see it. :) I agree with you on a lot of points. neither Elizabeth nor Darcy possess the big, recognizable personalities they have in Pride and Prejudice, they're both sort of plain and rather too much mellowed-down. The only time Elizabeth seemed like genuinely Elizabeth was her amazingly snappy conversation with Lady Catherine – and that's a real shame because Lady Catherine's visit on the whole was very rushed and seemed pointless to the plot! I adored Jenna Coleman and James Norton, though. Lydia was just... perfect. :D As for the murder mystery element – I guessed the ending by the end of the first episode, I kid you not. The historical setting came through very nicely, I liked how the class differences were illustrated and how we get to see how justice actually worked in the countryside. (I can't remember that one line word for word, but it was something like "The jury will now deliberate... hopefully not in the pub." :D) All in all, it was an okay watch to pass the time and it looks terrific, but nothing perfectly amazing here in my opinion.