TV | Death Comes to Pemberley – Did it live up to Austen lovers' expectations?

Upon hearing that part one of a sequel to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice was being aired on Boxing Day, my immediate thought was that the author had taken a bit of a risk. Continuing the lives of one of the most loved literary couples (AKA Lizzie and Darcy) is bound to be viewed with mixed opinions, especially as Austen left us with a perfect ‘happy ever after’ view of their love affair. However, PD James’ addition, dramatized by Juliette Towhidi is both gripping and entertaining. Austen’s famous fictional cast lives on exactly as we expected them to do so, a credit indeed to the actors playing the roles. Fitzwilliam Darcy, played by Matthew Rhys is as moody and mysterious as ever, yet his evident adoration for Elizabeth Bennett, played by Anne Maxwell Martin will please Pride and Prejudice enthusiasts immensely.

The Pemberley residents are midway through preparations for a ball when we join them on a picturesque day at Darcy’s country estate. You may find the far-reaching landscape and beautiful stately home, inhabited by masters and servants alike, is not dissimilar to another favoured period drama this holiday. On Christmas day after the joys of typical family festivities, I sat down to enjoy a solid two hours of Downton Abbey, the Christmas ‘special’. Alas I must admit that I had to switch channels owing to an unbearable feeling of boredom (apologies Downton lovers). If this rather dull end to the series put you off the idea of even more elaborate costumes, ear-wigging servants and courtship controversies then I am not wholly surprised. However I would implore you to give Death Comes to Pemberley a chance, it is quite the opposite of a boring production.

I suppose what makes this drama so riveting is that it is indeed quite cryptic, the title informs us that a death will take place and PD James has not hesitated to get straight to the point with a very shady whodunnit storyline right from the start. Everything from the galloping horses steaming across the darkened estate (with some ominous music playing of course) to the mysterious Mrs Riley, the haggard, hissing ghost who haunts the Pemberley woods, is exciting. Do not fret though, it has not completely darkened Austen’s delightful portrayal of marriage and moralities in early 19th century England. Mrs Bennett (Rebecca Front) is still babbling away in her impetuous manner, complaining about her ‘poor nerves’ and remarking on the size of Pemberley under her breath. Front is not the only actress who has played her character superbly; Eleanor Tomlinson who plays Georgiana Darcy also acts out her character’s innocent charm and gentle mannerisms exceptionally well.

If murder mysteries and spooky tales do not typically take your fancy, there is of course a romantic side to this production. It is Georgiana’s turn to find a husband and two eligible bachelors are keenly pursuing her (one’s a bit moody and Darcy-like whilst the other is more of a sweet natured Bingley type). Matthew Goode does a superb job of playing the bad guy, George Wickham whilst Jenna Coleman who plays his wife performs Lydia’s hysterical personality without fault. Death Comes to Pemberley is worth a watch for sure; it is Christmas television at its best.

You can watch Death Comes to Pemberley on BBC iPlayer now, alternatively you can take a read of our Cheat’s Guide to Pride & Prejudice for further background to such a great tale.

Alice Burns

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