TV Review: Death Comes to Pemberley
Of all the Jane Austen novels, I’m afraid that it really is Pride and Prejudice that is my favourite. I have never read any of the follow-on novels that have been written since, because I’m usually quite sceptical of anything like that. As I was when I heard that the BBC were putting on a three-part adaptation of P.D James’ crime novel follow-on, Death Comes to Pemberley.
Once again, the record button won, and it ended up that I watched all three parts back to back. Which I’m glad I did!
Set a few years after Pride and Prejudice, Mr and Mrs Darcy are set to put on a ball. Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Darcy née Bennet (played by Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin) live with Darcy’s sister Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson) at Pemberley and have a young son, another Fitzwilliam. Things seem pretty shiny and happy for our heroes.
As guests start to arrive – Colonel Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward), Mr and Mrs Bennet (James Fleet and Rebecca Front), and Henry Alveston (James Norton) – we discover that there are other, uninvited guests heading towards Pemberley. But one of them is not going to arrive.
George Wickham (Matthew Goode) and his wife Lydia (Jenna Coleman) are planning to gatecrash the Pemberley ball, but before they can get there, their travelling companion, Captain Denny (Tom Canton) leaps out of the carriage in to the woods to meet his untimely death.
With only Wickham as a witness, he stands accused. What follows is a twist-and-turn mystery tale with Lizzie trying to get to the heart of it before Wickham hangs.
The programme stands true to form; plenty of crime drama and our favourite characters are oh-so familiar. Lydia and Mrs Bennet are suitably distressing in a high-maintenance, vacuous and unintentionally comic way. Lizzie’s straight-thinking head makes her perfect as the crime-solving hero, and Darcy is typically still swoon-worthy as a brooding and gentlemanly Lord of the Manor. Wickham is still a cad, but I just couldn’t help being charmed by him (top points to Matthew Goode who is my perfect image of Wickham).
The crime itself was carefully played out and nicely balanced with Pride and Prejudice references. P.D James is a masterful crime writer, and you can see the stamp of her writing all over it – including the typical tropes of the “wrongly accused” storyline. The joy of these tropes though is that they are distinctly comforting, and blended with the well-trodden world of Jane Austen, it makes this a familiar and uplifting watch.
I was surprised about how much I enjoyed it, as a story in its own right, and as a happy return to favourite characters. The drama was suitably dramatic and the intrigue suitably intriguing. The cast were stunning – and Anna Maxwell Martin as an older, but not necessarily wiser at first, Lizzie is perfect. In fact, she is the standout performance of the whole thing. Rhys and Goode as Darcy and Wickham were brilliant, and I’d even go as far to say that Rhys rivals Colin Firth in the brooding stakes! This is definitely going on a boxset wishlist.
Although you ultimately know the ending, they do throw a couple of surprises in to keep you gripped to the finish. As a follow-on from Jane Austen, I can certainly get on board with it. (That doesn’t necessarily mean I will read any of the others!) But one thing it has sharpened is my interest for crime fiction.