Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Masterpiece Theatre: Death Comes to Pemberly

Last fall, the good folks at Masterpiece Theatre treated us to a trip back to the enduringly popular world of Jane Austen.  But rather than another retelling of one of her stories, we instead enter the crazy and fun world of Austen fanfiction.  Death Comes to Pemberly was written by the late and beloved English crime writer P. D. James in 2011 and has been generally well received by Austen fans the world over.  Set six years after the end of Pride and Prejudice, the story reintroduces us to some of literature's favorite characters and imagines what life after happily ever after may have been for Mr. and Mrs. Darcy. Last year, BBC One adapted the story as a television mini-series starring Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Rhys, Jenna Coleman, and Matthew Goode.

I was interested (but not overly excited) in this adaptation, though I had never read the book.  I love Pride and Prejudice as much as anyone and will always welcome a chance to explore that story further.  So lets start with that aspect of the adaptation...the story.  Plot wise, this adaptation seems to connect fairly seamlessly with the original work.  The Darcys are happily married and living at Pemberly.  They have a young son, Gerogianna lives with them, and things seem to be going swimmingly.  Until, that is, a man is murdered on the estate and the prime suspect turns out to be the Darcy's brother in-law and everyone's favorite Austen baddie, George Wickham.  Now, Darcy must help the man he likes least in the world to prove his innocence (if he can) and discover the truth of what happened in Pemberly Woods.

The story is ok, nothing mind blowing.  The mystery itself was pretty basic, and I had figured out what happened pretty early on.  For me, the characters themselves were more interesting, especially the relationship between Lizzy and Darcy.  At first, I loved the idea of where the story seemed to be taking them.  As tensions increase, doubts about their own relationship creep in with Darcy wondering if Lizzy married him for his money and Lizzy wondering if Darcy secretly despises her for her family connections.  These are real, grown up problems that you know would have to come up at some point in their marriage.  But rather than allowing them to really hash these questions out and reestablish trust in each other, the story kind of lets it fizzle and they simply settle everything with some make up sex.  Personally, I would have loved to see them really get to the bottom of those doubts.

Some characters were pretty close to what you would imagine them, while others didn't seem to really jive with the Austen originals.  Anna Maxwell Martin played Lizzy as a much more somber person.  She seemed to lack the wit and vivacity that we all love in the character.  Matthew Rhys was passable as Darcy, though he didn't really inspire any passions in your heart (unless you are like me and love him simply for the sake of Rhys himself).  I was probably most confused over Col. Fitzwilliam.  The dude seemed so nice and laid back in the original novel, but here he is grumpy and self centered.  Seriously, who put his undies in a wad?  I do have to give props to Jenna Coleman and Matthew Goode who both turned in excellent performances as Lydia and George Wickham.  They were every bit as insufferable as one could hope and honestly brought the most life to their characters.

If you are looking for a story that is going to equal the magnificence of Austen's, you won't find it here.  If, however, you are ok with spending a few hours enjoying a decently acted film based around familiar and favorite characters, then you may be satisfied.  It wasn't something that I fell head over heels for, but I enjoyed myself while I watched.    

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