Death Comes to Pemberley (2013)

 
Reviewer: Charity Bishop

What is the BBC to do on the eve of Pride & Prejudice's 200th anniversary? They dare not remake the classic miniseries that made Colin Firth a global phenomenon, and recent years also saw a much shorter remake. Yet, it's wrong to let such an occasion go by uncelebrated -- so they reached into modern fiction and plucked Lizzie and Darcy out of a best-selling novel for an entirely new adventure.

  

Six years into their marriage, Pemberley is in a tizzy the day before the ball. Lizzie (Anna Maxwell Martin) is busy overseeing the staff and trying to keep their rambunctious son out of trouble. Her husband (Matthew Rhys) is storming about the house complaining about the noise and impending guests. Downstairs, the kitchens are frenzied and the excitement increases when two maids come screaming into the house claiming to have seen a ghost in the woods. Her reappearance always means impending danger in the house.

 

Then the guests begin to arrive. First comes Colonel Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward), who has his romantic eye on Darcy's younger sister Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson). Unfortunately, her affections reside with the dashing young barrister, Henry (James Norton). But one arrival is quite unexpected -- at dusk, a carriage careens down the road with a screaming Lydia (Jenna Louise Coleman) inside. Her husband Wickham (Matthew Goode) dashed out into the woods after an upset fellow soldier and ten minutes later gunshots were heard. Irritated that once again he must deal with his "wayward brother," Darcy heads out into the arriving storm -- and discovers a dead man, his friend crumpled above him crying out "it's all my fault..."

 

Murder is afoot at Pemberley and the local magistrate soon involved. But what seems like an open and shut case (at least in the eyes of the locals) unravels into a complex web of lies that involves deception, blackmail, infidelity, and more ghosts from Darcy's past, as he faces a bitter truth and amends matters with an old adversary. I haven't read the book on which this is based but from what I understand, the BBC has improved on it in some ways. It's a clever approach to married life at Pemberley and in some respects it's wonderful -- a chance to revisit familiar faces in a new setting. Certain characters are just as we expect them to be -- Lydia in particular shines thanks to Coleman's luminous acting (she's the first actress I've ever seen who made me like Lydia). Lady Catherine drops in for some ill-timed advice, we get a few minutes with Jane, and more of a chance to familiarize ourselves with Georgiana. But then it falters a bit. Darcy is somewhat different from the original, but Lizzie is barely recognizable -- a very serious, mild-mannered people-pleaser; it's hard to buy her as the energetic, witty, sarcastic and at times insulting Lizzie of Jane Austen's novel. She's very likable -- she's just not Elizabeth! Fans of the original novel won't like what's done to some of the secondary characters, either -- but I can't say why, without risking the twisty plot.

 

It has a smart cast, a gorgeous setting, and enough twists and turns to lead the audience on while also weaving in clues as to what really happened. If it has one fault, it's that it can be redundant as we go over the evidence multiple times (listening to it a third time in the courtroom slows the film to a crawl, since we've already heard this evidence several times). But the good moments are very good and it has a sense of hilarity throughout -- even though this is serious business, these are the Bennet-Darcys, after all! It plays serious but always with a hint of humor.
  

  

Sexual Content:

An unmarried woman has a child; a love scene between a husband and wife (kissing, removing clothes -- no movement or nudity, other than her showing some leg).
  
  

Language:

Occasional profanities.

  

Violence:

Implications of a young boy being hanged; several men are hanged; a man is bashed in the face with a stick; a bloody wound on the back of the head.

    

Other:

Frequent social drinking.