Home Screen Reviews Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

Review: Death Comes to Pemberley

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Emma Sudderick is underwhelmed by the latest Austen incarnation.

Image credit: BBC
Image credit: BBC

Death Comes to Pemberley had all the elements to make it an ideal Christmas holiday addiction; the desire which overcomes us all to be Inspector Barnaby when watching crime mysteries, the eloquence of Elizabethan England which makes you want speak as though you inhaled the dictionary as a young child, and of course, Mr Darcy.

Based on P. D. James best-seller, it follows the lives of Elizabeth and Fitzwilliam Darcy six years after their marriage which concluded Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Everything seems dandy in their lives until Elizabeth’s younger sister, Lydia, and her contemptuous husband, Mr. Wickham, return.

From then on it is a spiral of deceit, murder and a lot of pre-Victorian lawyering which I didn’t really understand.

Yet with all its costumes, its familiar characters and its slightly hued cinematography which every recent period drama appears to fantasize about, the three part crime-thriller-come-love-story appeared to kill Pemberley in more ways than one.

Most importantly, it introduced yet another Mr Darcy into our fantasies. Whilst the debate of ‘Colin Firth Vs. Matthew Macfadyen’ has been frustrating Jane Austen lovers since 2005 when Joe Wright’s adaptation of Pride and Prejudice was released, it has been somewhat engrossing trying to decide which has captivated our hearts most:  the water-logged white shirt of Firth or the rain-sodden peacoat of Macfadyen.

Matthew Rhys as yet another Darcy. Image credit: The Telegraph
Matthew Rhys as yet another Darcy. Image credit: The Telegraph

Suddenly, we have a third party who is neither the family favourite actor nor the morose introvert which we best associate with the name Mr Darcy. That isn’t to say that Matthew Rhys’ portrayal is unsavoury, but rather that it lacks…gumption.

Indeed, even Elizabeth lacked much of her mettle which makes her so lovable as a protagonist. In fact, rather than transform Pride and Prejudice, what Death Comes to Pemberley has done is fantasised about it. The series is less of an adaptation than a day dream complete with the sly tell-tale humour of a 21st Century production.

From this perspective it is very easy to see why Death Comes to Pemberley is a feat of genius. After all, the BBC merely did what every reader does to their favourite books and say “what if?”.

Despite its disheartening attempts at reigniting Austen’s literature, Death Comes to Pemberley managed to captivate a massive audience (at least for three evenings anyway) with its panache and excitement. Still, it will probably be forgotten within a few months and exiled to the television graveyard that is BBC Three.

Emma Sudderick

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