Death Comes to Pemberley Review

I wrote a review of BBC’s Death Comes to Pemberley a few weeks ago, intended for another site. However it wasn’t picked up so I’m publishing it here. Apologies that it is for a show that was televised a month ago. You may still be able to see it on BBC iplayer or when it comes out on DVD.


It wouldn’t be Christmas without a bonnet- strewn period drama and this year the BBC stepped up to the mark, serving up their dramatisation of PD James’ sequel to Pride and Prejudice; Death Comes to Pemberley. The adaptation appeared to have all the right ingredients for a sparkling festive treat. It imagines a whole new future for the characters of Pride and Prejudice, carrying them on past the last chapter of the novel, which, let’s face it, is what readers of the novel (and viewers of the adaptations) have already done in their heads.

The book is a delightful blend of detective story and period drama. The story has moved six years down the line, with Darcy and Elizabeth married with two boys. Jane and Bingley live nearby and Lizzie and Darcy’s marital happiness seems complete. We join the action as the characters are planning for a ball to be held at Pemberley. However, the scene is very much disrupted when Lydia Wickham, Elizabeth’s younger sister, turns up as an uninvited guest, screaming that her husband has been murdered. However, it turns out that it is actually Wickham’s friend Denny who has been killed. At this point, we are launched into the midst of an intriguing murder mystery.

Matthew Rhys will please Darcy admirers with his stern, serious handsomeness. He plays Darcy as the family man, who deeply loves his wife and children. However, this is a Darcy who is struggling because of the tensions in his relationship with his wife. Anna Maxwell Martin also does a fine job portraying Elizabeth as a strong, intelligent woman. Together the two have great chemistry and should definitely have had more screen time together. My only quibble with her performance is that Maxwell Martin’s Lizzie seems too sensible to be the woman whose head was turned by Wickham. But it is only a minor niggle. Rebecca Front does an excellent job with Mrs. Bennet, playing the role for laughs. She gets some of the best lines in the show, which she delivers skilfully.

Despite the dark feel of the piece, there are some lighter moments. The coaching inn yard where Wickham is first tried is like a local court deciding whether a case should go to the high court. This produced a few deft comic moments in which we see the group of yokels jeering and declaring Wickham’s guilt. Jenna Coleman as smug, screeching Lydia also provides moments of comic value.

There have been criticisms of the production, deeming it slow and hard to get into, but then there are people who expect this to be a sequel to the 1995 adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. It is not. However, it works as a companion piece to both the novel and the adaptations. It is also one of those dramas that viewers should stay with, as I was not automatically gripped by it after watching the first episode; however I found myself growing to like it more as it progressed and was enthralled by the time it finished. There is also a genuinely unnerving scene towards the end, which I won’t spoil for those who haven’t watched it.

Highly recommended viewing, not just for Christmas, but for any time of the year.

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