Death Comes to Pemberley

“It is a truth universally acknowledged that…. there’s been a murder?!”

In fairness, there have been much more bizarre ideas for Jane Austen genre mash-ups – zombies or sea monsters anyone? – but I did approach this particular one with a considerable degree of suspicion, since I’m fiercely, probably slightly insanely, protective of both “Pride and Prejudice”, the novel, and “Pride and Prejudice“, the BBC adaptation from 1995. As far as I’m concerned, they’re just about perfect, and people who think they can do better usually need to check themselves before they wreck themselves: a case in point being that awful film from 2005. I hated that film. Oh, the many ways I loathed and despised that film… But I’m getting side-tracked. I’m not saying it can’t be done – see the glorious Bride and Prejudice or the iconic Bridget Jones’s Diary for successful examples – but my point is that messing with Austen’s masterpiece tends to be a tricky business. I was surprised and delighted then that the BBC’s version of Death Comes to Pemberley (from the novel by P.D James) did it so marvellously.

The story picks up a few years into Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage; it’s clear that love each other very much, but, like any couple, they have their flaws and troubles. Still, generally speaking, they’re getting on splendidly, till a murder takes place in nearby woods and the wretched Wickham bursts back into their lives as the prime suspect, re-opening old wounds and resurrecting old resentments for both Elizabeth and Darcy, as well as threatening the good Darcy name. And giving us a terrific bit of telly over the holidays, too.

Some of the language in the script is a little modern for the time period but I don’t mind that too much since the characterisation is more or less perfect, with Matthew Rhys and the superb Anna Maxwell Martin leading a superb cast; not only could I believe these were the same people we first met in Austen’s novel, but I could believe they were the same people we watched in my beloved tv adaptation as well. And the story may be a relatively basic whodunnit at bottom, but it’s executed with such care and respect that it fits perfectly into the world of Regency society and manners that Austen made so recognisable and so captivating. The first two parts were just fantastic, the last one is on tonight, Penelope Keith is going to turn up playing Lady Catherine De Bourgh and I can’t wait. I’m LOVING it.

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13 thoughts on “Death Comes to Pemberley

  1. CJ Cregg December 29, 2013 / 1:29 pm

    Ok, episode 3 went a bit off-piste with the trial where the defendant gave evidence as part of the prosecution case and the demented scene where Lizzie stormed the gallows. But, overall, I loved it. Seems to be a lot of hatred for the series elsewhere online, a lot of it suggesting they didn’t do the characters justice, which baffles me, but each to their own. I thought it was great.

  2. Ace_Of_Wands December 29, 2013 / 1:51 pm

    A lot of venom elsewhere from Austenistas, but I enjoyed it. But I do like a bit of frock and bonnet action.

    In retrospect it was probably the best thing on over the Christmas period, although admittedly it did not have a great deal of competition. God knows how much the production cost, but the shot of Chatsworth House in the background, with the large pond in the foreground, was worth the licence fee itself. It’s a difficult line to walk, but it just about succeeded in staying the right side of parody.

    I noted that the class system even applied to the gallows. The other 3 ruffians had obviously been called earlier than Wickham, and then were hanged without compunction as soon as he was released, presumably for crimes against personal hygiene.

  3. Snoskred December 29, 2013 / 2:28 pm

    Thank you for posting about this. I went in search of it and am now about to watch it. I am a huge P&P fan too. 🙂

  4. Snoskred December 29, 2013 / 5:08 pm

    Oh, my. What a visual feast for the eyes this has been, and I am only up to the end of episode 2. Waiting for episode 3 to load – having a bit of trouble with the internet teevee tonight.

    The lighting, the costumes, the locations, everything is just gorgeous. It is almost enough for one to want to hop a flight to the UK. 😉 In summer that is.

    I hated that 2005 film too. However, I suspect if the people responsible for this glorious production were to go back and re-do the original 6 part series, I would not have any problems with their doing that, because they did such a fantastic job with this and I think they would do it the proper justice.

    I thank you multiply for posting about this again, I could have missed it entirely otherwise!

    • Ace_Of_Wands December 29, 2013 / 5:33 pm

      Summer, Winter, the weather is all the same! We Brits still wear clothes like that, you know, although the empire line dress is a little unusual on a male. 😉

      • Snoskred December 29, 2013 / 6:38 pm

        I thought it was a bit more Ali G over there these days, lol. 🙂

        I have finished watching this now, and I absolutely loved it. I do agree that it should have been the judge who went up onto the gallows and not Lizzy. And I rofled unmercifully at the three being hanged for crimes against personal hygiene – so glad I read that comment before seeing that scene because it added so much to it – it was hilarious how gorgeously clean Wickham managed to keep himself even in the same filthy gaol as the others. Maybe he secretly licks himself like a cat, or has a band of merry blonde ladies pop in to do it for him..

        The only thing I would wish is that they would have extended it out an extra episode or two, because it was so beautifully done, it left me wanting more.

        If only Downton could be this, every episode. This is when you see how poor mans P&P Downton truly is.. 😦

    • CJ Cregg December 29, 2013 / 7:38 pm

      Heh you’re very welcome, Snoksred – I’m just glad you and Ace enjoyed it. With all the negativity about it online, I was beginning to wonder if I was missing something!

      Ace, Chatsworth did look incredible, didn’t it? I want to go there now….!

  5. teejay December 31, 2013 / 4:20 pm

    Oh, I’m so glad other people enjoyed the visual feast that Death Comes to Pemberley was.

    I have to be honest and say I wasn’t sure what to expect from it when I first heard it was going to be on. Sometimes these sorts of sequels don’t work. I thought I’d compare it a lot with the 1995 version of P&P, but in actual fact I didn’t, except to think that it felt natural somehow. You could have felt that these people had always been these characters all along. It was a total contrast to that dreadful film version from 2005, which should have been left in its entirety on the cutting room floor. I thought those little flashback sequences to P&P worked well, adding to the feeling that these people were the characters.

    I have to say I liked Matthew Rhys’s Darcy a bit more than Colin Firth’s. I found him that bit easier to sympathise with somehow. I think Anna Maxwell Martin’s Lizzie was fantastic too. I was very impressed with Jenna Coleman’s strangely understated portrayal of Lydia too.

    To my mind this was far and away the best thing on over Christmas. I won’t compare with Downton because they are from different periods of history, but in Downton’s Christmas special nothing, literally nothing, happened. Death Comes To Pemberley was beautifully shot and respectfully portrayed. It had a story with a beginning, a middle and and end. It was perfect.

    • CJ Cregg December 31, 2013 / 5:51 pm

      Hi teejay, welcome to unpopcult 🙂

      Colin Firth is still my favourite Darcy but I agree Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin were both great. I know exactly what you mean by it feeling natural and like they had been these characters all along. Period drama is so tricky to pull off now we’ve seen so much of it and we’re so used to the plotlines and bonnets – as Ace said, it’s a fine line to walk to avoid parody – but this was beautifully done. I loved it.

      I’m not a Downtonite so the next period drama I’m likely to watch is season 2 of Mr Selfridge. Which again is set in a different period but is likely to look even more ridiculous after the treat that was Pemberley….

  6. CJ Cregg December 31, 2014 / 3:40 pm

    My few days off has accidentally turned into Austen spin-off central: giggled my way through Austenland on DVD yesterday, just finished having a bit of a cry at Becoming Jane which turned up on BBC 2 today (also on iPlayer for the next few days if anyone else wishes to indulge) and have switched channel only to find a re-run of Death Comes to Pemberley on UK Drama!

    Slightly worried I’m going to start donning bonnets and playing the pianoforte if I carry on like this though….

  7. Traxy October 16, 2016 / 3:07 am

    Haha! You echoed my feelings perfectly until you said you LIKED DCtP. 😂 I really wanted to like it (we went to Chatsworth on my birthday that year and saw parts of the Wickham-being-taken-away scene being filmed, so extra incentive to like it) but it was just … No. Didn’t work for me at all, and most of the characters felt wrong. Was really disappointed by it.

    Have you seen North & South, based off the Elizabeth Gaskell novel? It’s basically P&P oop North, with awkward and failed proposal scene and all. Plus it has Richard Armitage in a cravat. 😍

    • Traxy October 16, 2016 / 3:11 am

      Spoke too soon. Of course you have! Just had a sneak peek at your Strike Back category. Must read it when it’s not 3am.

      • CJ Cregg October 17, 2016 / 11:15 pm

        Heh yes – I’m a massive fan of North and South, Traxy. And of Mr Armitage – N&S, Spooks, Strike Back, The Crucible…. I sat through all 3 Hobbit movies and even went to see that NotTwister tornado movie he did 😀 Slightly worried I may have stalker tendencies…

        EDIT: it was called Into the Storm!

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