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.