Death Comes to Pemberley – Mini-Series Review

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GUEST REVIEWER – teachergirl73

I was very excited about the television adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley which aired in early November on PBS’ Masterpiece Theatre. I had read the novel by P.D. James shortly after it was first released, and quite enjoyed the ode to Jane Austen mixed with a very well written police procedural that seemed fitting to the time.

71vOCbpMFoL._SL1280_Amazon.com – It is the eve of the Darcys’ annual ball at their magnificent Pemberley estate. Darcy and Elizabeth, now six years married, are relaxing with their guests after supper when the festivities are brought to an abrupt halt. A scream calls them to the window and a hysterical Lydia Wickham tumbles out of a carriage shrieking, “Murder!” What follows is the somber discovery of a dead man in Pemberley woods, a brother accused of murder, and the beginning of a nightmare that will threaten to engulf Pemberley and all the Darcys hold dear.

 

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I am a huge fan of Masterpiece Theatre and usually any import from across the pond is my cuppa tea, whether it is a period piece or contemporary drama. I fully expected to have the same feelings about Death Comes to Pemberley as I do about Downton Abbey or Sherlock. Sadly, instead of finding another great piece to satisfy my need for British drama, instead, I was left with disappointment. The scenery and setting were beautiful and the casting of Matthew Goode as Mr. Wickham and Jenna Coleman as Lydia Bennet was superb. Coleman’s performance as Lydia, might be the best interpretation of the character that I have ever seen.  It truly was a gifted performance. Goode’s take on Mr. Wickham was also very well done, pulling off the dashing, young cad beautifully.

The Wickhams as protrayed by Matthew Goode and Jenna Coleman in Death Comes to Pemberley

As for the lord and lady of the manor, from almost the beginning, I found that the relationship between Mr. Darcy and his wife Elizabeth, played by Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin lacked any real connection. They were not the happily married couple with a young family that we found in James’ novel and as we would expect to find in the years following the original story of Pride and Prejudice. Instead, I found the relationship between Darcy and Elizabeth without any passion, and once the crisis hit, Darcy’s attitude towards his wife was simply unbelievable. To say that it was ungentlemanly would be a severe understatement.

After the first part of the series aired, I was very puzzled by the direction that the creators of the show decided to take, but I still held out hope that in the second night, the series would pull it together and demonstrate a credible reason for the disintegration of the Darcys’ marriage. It did not, and when at the end the writers decided it was time to wrap up everything with a nice, neat, tidy little bow, the reconciliation between Darcy and Elizabeth was not even remotely believable. In the novel, Darcy and Elizabeth stand together as a united front in the chaos that followed the aftermath of a murder on the grounds of Pemberley right through to the subsequent trial.

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James, P.D. Death Comes to Pemberley, Toronto: Vintage Canada, 2012, p. 105.

Even if you hadn’t read the novel prior to watching the mini-series, I still feel like most Pride and Prejudice fans would be confused with Mr. Darcy’s openly hostile behaviour towards his wife throughout most of the show. This point prevented me from getting any real enjoyment out of the series because it felt so false.

The Darcys as protrayed by Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin in the series.

So, you win some and you lose some…I’ll just have to wait for the return of Downton Abbey on Sunday, January 4th, 2015, and in the meantime, I’ll just re-watch Pride and Prejudice over the holidays.

 

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