'Death Comes to Pemberley' Is Jane Austen, Continued

Affairs, unwed pregnancies, and murder all abound, but at the heart of Death Comes to Pemberley is the story of a marriage.

Death Comes to Pemberley

Distributor: PBS
Cast: Matthew Rhys, Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Goode, Jenna Coleman, Tom Ward, Eleanor Tomlinson, Tom Canton
US Release Date: 2014-10-28

Death Comes to Pemberley, a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice by P.D. James, is a worthy addition to Austen’s original and the BBC adaptation makes that case wonderfully. Six years into Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth’s (Anna Maxwell Martin) marriage, they have a young son and are busy with preparations for the annual ball to be held at their estate in Pemberely. An unexpected murder and an even more surprising suspect sets the story in motion quickly.

Originally presented in three parts, the miniseries really gets going once the second episode begins. At that point there is no need to reintroduce these characters and remind viewers of the ups and downs of their courtship. The mystery and how it affects the Darcy household is now at the center of everything and it serves just as much as a way to view their marriage as a classic whodunit.

The murder is linked directly to the Darcys through Lydia (Jenna Coleman), Elizabeth’s sister, and her husband, the unscrupulous George Wickham (Matthew Goode). Their marriage was an act of rebellion on flighty Lydia’s part, yet it links Darcy to Wickham as a brother, despite their own troublesome history. George and Lydia, along with George’s closest friend, Captain Denny (Tom Canton), are on their way to crash the Darcy ball and on the way they stop due to a heated argument between Wickham and Denny. They disappear into the dark of the woods and shots are fired. Captain Denny is killed and Wickham is the immediate suspect, no matter how much he pleads his innocence.

In addition to the murder, the Darcy household also includes his sister Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), who is being courted by two very different men. Georgiana is clearly smitten with the young lawyer, Henry Alveston (James Norton), though she is also being pursued by the older Colonel Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward). The choice is not necessarily hers to make, as Darcy favors Colonel Fitzwilliam, even against Elizabeth’s wishes, creating tension and misunderstandings, all in classic Austen fashion.

The way in which Darcy handles Georgiana’s suitors bleeds into how Elizabeth sees their own marriage, reawakening her own insecurities. Their disagreement on how best to handle the situation, coupled with the stress of the murder investigation, leads to doubts and recriminations. It should be said that in a cast of excellent actors, Rhys and Maxwell Martin are especially terrific. Rhys’ Darcy is alternately arrogant and vulnerable, while Maxwell Martin’s Elizabeth is as independently minded as Austen’s original and a pleasure to watch. Together they make a particularly convincing and engaging Darcy and Elizabeth.

Just as Austen acknowledged class issues in her books, James does the same with Elizabeth’s friendship with the Bidwells, tenants and employees on their property, as well as in the financial difficulties in George and Lydia’s marriage. Elizabeth didn’t come from a wealthy family and therefore, her marriage to Darcy was seen as a mistake by many in his circle. The murder and her family’s connection to it understandably bring up uncertainties about her role in Darcy’s potential downfall.

The second half of the series devotes a great deal of time to Wickham’s trial. Much of the evidence points to his guilt, although the viewers can never be sure of the truth until the very end. Throughout the trial, Lydia is inconsolable, though she certainly uses her grief to gain attention and sympathy. In a rare moment of weakness, she admits that although she is aware of Wickham’s less than favorable attributes, she chooses to overlook them in order to maintain their cavalier façade. Coleman and Goode also have a nice moment when things seem bleakest during the trial. It’s a rare moment between the two characters when they let down their guard, and the contrast to their usual shallow interactions is very effective.

As the trial comes to an end, all is finally revealed and pieces come together to explain the events of that night on road, as well as what led up to it. It’s a satisfying conclusion, but it’s almost beside the point because what the audience is most concerned with is Darcy and Elizabeth’s relationship. The two threads of the series are intertwined nicely and the conclusion deftly brings together all the details that have come together over the three hours. Of particular note is one of the final scenes between Darcy and Georgiana, as it not only reveals much between them, but also to Elizabeth. It is in moments like these that Death Comes to Pemberley really shines.

Death Comes to Pemberley works so well because the characters are so perfectly realized. Affairs, unwed pregnancies, and murder all abound, but at the heart of the series is the story of a marriage. The Darcy marriage is initially presented as almost idyllic, yet it’s quickly shaken when the events of the murder bring up old insecurities for both. Rhys and Maxwell Martin bring real emotion to their portrayals, making the final resolution feel earned and exactly right.

Unfortunately, the DVD release does not include any extras.


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