OK, so it’s a bit late for a review of Death comes to Pemberley, the BBC’s seasonal offering during that difficult post-Christmas Day TV slump. But hooray for iPlayer as this adaptation of P D James’ sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (phew!) is a tantalising prospect any time of year. Breeches, bodices and the ultimate fairy on the tree, Mr Darcy – what could possibly go wrong?
Unfortunately, quite a lot. Yes, the production is sumptuous, period drama porn. Even Lizzie Darcy nee Bennett seems overwhelmed by it all (although how come she only seems to get to wear one dress throughout?), walking the length of the grand dining table laden with perfectly polished silverware, trailing her fingers through the fringe of fragrant, summer flowers. This came after an earlier visit ‘downstairs’ to watch several slickly glistening jellies emerge quivering from their moulds. I’d need a lie down if I was her.
We join Elizabeth and Mr Darcy approaching the dangerous seven year itch period after their wedding, although both seem blissfully happy. That’s until naughty Lydia and Wickham arrive uninvited at Pemberley and, even ruder, bring the dead body of Captain Denny with them. A murder mystery then ensues, suspicions and subplots fuelled by the ghost of Mrs Riley, a bastard child and poor Georgiana Darcy having to cope with the attentions of two handsome men be-quiffed with hair styles worthy of any self-respecting boy band.
For this to work I had to be convinced by this new development for two very well-loved characters. I’m afraid I just didn’t buy the Saint Lizzie Darcy, super ‘CSI’ sleuth. Anna Maxwell Martin is a brilliant actress and did a sterling job but she wasn’t right for this role, and the character itself a leap too far. Matthew Rhys was suitably grumpy and scowling as Darcy but how dare he doubt Lizzie and make her cry! Hasn’t he learnt anything?
On the plus side Trevor Eve is masterfully pompous as magistrate Sir Selwyn Hardcastle and I loved Mrs Reynolds, Pemberley’s power-housekeeper handling every problem with tight-lipped efficiency.
One thing which will stay with me in a very bad way is being made to watch Mr and Mrs Darcy conceive another child. No.
Juliette Towhidi’s adaptation now makes me want to read P D James’ novel to see just how much of a travesty Death comes to Pemberley really is. I can’t believe such an astute writer as James would turn Elizabeth Bennett Darcy into Lizzie Drippy. Regrettably, going by this adaptation, it appears to have happened.