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Murder at the Darcys'
on 11 January 2015
Out of all the Jane Austen fanfictions, P.D. James' "Death Comes to Pemberley" is probably the most successful.
So it's not that surprising that the BBC decided to turn this murder-mystery sequel to "Pride and Prejudice" into a miniseries. And it's a fairly decent little whodunnit, with beautiful visuals, a socially awkward love triangle and a lot of familiar faces... and the major downside is some less-than-ideal casting for the main characters, Lizzie and Darcy.
On the eve of a ball, Pemberley is thrown into an uproar when a hysterical Lydia (Jenna Coleman) comes charging in -- and Wickham (Matthew Goode) is found with the corpse of his old friend, Captain Denny. Someone whacked Denny on the head, and Wickham is sobbing that he killed him.
Darcy (Matthew Rhys) is reluctant to believe that Wickham could have committed the murder, especially since it would bring a wave of scandal to Pemberley. But the magistrate Hardcastle (Trevor Eve) has no other suspects, and between Wickham's hysterical confession and being alone in the woods with Denny, he's sort of the perfect culprit.
Meanwhile, Lizzie (Anna Maxwell Martin) is perplexed by a series of odd occurrences -- a mysterious woman in the woods near Pemberley, a baby with an unknown father, and a love triangle between Georgiana Darcy (Eleanor Tomlinson) and two suitors. As she struggles to deal with the scandal's effects on her marriage, she begins to realize that there's a connection between these three problems, which may be the key to solving the murder.
"Death Comes to Pemberley" is pretty lightweight as a murder mystery -- I figured out the murderer's identity before the murder even took place. Furthermore, not a lot of actual detective work takes place. Darcy deals with the comedic court goings-on (most of the audience seems there for the LOLs) while Lizzie collects random clues that eventually gel together.
It's more enjoyable as a Regency drama, and as one of the few competent sequels to "Pride and Prejudice" -- it's told with respect to the original story, and fleshes out some of the storylines (Mrs. Younge, Wickham's ongoing caddishness) from that novel. It's also beautifully filmed, set in an exquisite mansion, sprawling manicured grounds and some truly lovely forests -- it's almost a shame when the attention is drawn to nearby towns.
Unfortunately, the main characters aren't well-cast. Rhys seems stiff and stodgy as Darcy, rather than the passionate, sometimes grim figure he should be. And Martin... well, she seems a bit too old and plain for the role of Lizzie, and she doesn't really have the witty charisma that you would expect. In fact, Lizzie spends most of her time just floating around Pemberley and arguing with people.
It's a shame, because most of the casting is spot-on -- the Bennetts, Coleman as the pert and shallow Lydia, Tomlinson as a dewy-eyed Georgiana, Mariah Gale as Mrs. Younge, and so on. Gale gives a particularly good performance as the perennial wastrel Wickham, who has caused yet another scandal; however, we do see Wickham scared and desperate. Tom Ward does a pretty passable job as Colonel Fitzwilliam, but it's never made clear when or why he became an untrustworthy, manipulative jerk.
"Death Comes to Pemberley" is fairly flat as a mystery and has some lackluster lead actors, but it's an acceptable sequel to the immortal Austen novel. And if nothing else, enjoy the superb supporting cast.