Saturday, 28 December 2013

DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY (so far) A REVIEW


Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin as Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Darcy.


I am a die hard Janeite, but one who only reads the novels,her letters and the various biographies, as they come along. I have visited Steventon, Winchester, Chawton and London quite often. I live here and almost daily pass by London sites that are connected with Jane Austen. I do not, as a rule, watch Jane Austen films or TV adaptations, unless I am caught out.

Last night I was caught out. I walked into our living room and Marilyn said, “sit down its just starting. You’ll want to see this.” “See what?” “Death Comes to Pemberley.” So I did, for what I thought would be a glimpse. The programme began, episode 2, of this three parter. The background music is understated and the scenery is what you would expect of a Jane Austen. All that is in place but I immediately got a sense of a darkness about the look of it all. The colours of this production are intense with a certain dark quality to them. I would have mistaken it for being filmed in Autumn for its sombreness. However, I am sure it was not.
The filmic techniques are at first disorientating. Everything appears to be happening quickly. We are drawn into the picture with camera angles, close ups and low down shots. We intermingle with the characters and it makes us, everyone, part of the action, seeing as a character in the film would see. Its almost a three dimensional experience but it isn't. I immediately thought, how clever.

And then, here we go I thought. I’ve seen all this before. Trevor Eve, an excellent actor, plays, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, a local magistrate who, because of the lack of any viable police force with a team of detectives in the early 19th century, plays the part of the detective for this murder mystery. On one level this can be seen as a simple, who done it, a straight forward murder mystery. Hardcastle comes across as an intelligent, thoughtful, worldly wise detective along the lines of an analytical Poirot or a mindful Miss Marples, who goes through all the usual detective at a murder scene procedures.

Well that’s it then, I thought. I don’t need to see any more, but suddenly I was caught irretrievably, hook line and sinker. This is so much more than a murder mystery. It is a fight for the whole continued existence of Pemberley and a struggle for the relationships that are developing and continuing. This is no keeping the characters frozen, as they were when we first met them in Pride and Prejudice. These are developing lives and relationships in all their subtle rawness and insecurities.

Matthew Rhys has a studied, dark, serious handsomeness. He is ideal for this Darcy.  Fitzwilliam Darcy is under pressure with the tensions and struggles in his relationship with Elizabeth, he is being torn asunder in his destructive relationship with Wickham, because of honour, family and the consequences to the many that Wickham is always on the verge of destroying or damaging.He is beset by the travails brought about by Wykham's misdemeanours real and supposed. The management of the vast unruly Pemberley estate, the continuance of his dynasty, and his own relationship with Elizabeth all weigh heavily. This relationship is no happy ever after marriage as might possibly be inferred at the end of Pride and Prejudice. He is married to an assertive, as well, of course,a loving Elizabeth. .All these elements are intermingled and focus on Pemberleys existence and future development. Georgianas possible arranged marriage involves the continuance of a strong Pemberley.Wykhams association with Darcy  could mean the removal of credit at the bank for the  Pemberley estate, and Elizabeth is fighting for Darcy's aristocratic soul.

Elizabeth Darcy is played absolutely brilliantly by Anna Maxwell Martin. Nobody dare tell me she is too old for this part. She is magnificent, subtle, strong, gentle, perceptive, intelligent, all at the same time. She is almost  Jane Austen herself. She fights for the rights of women, well Georgiana Darcy’s rights as a free woman who is being coerced into a loveless marriage with Colonel Fitzwilliam, an honourable and wealthy man . She begins a struggle with Darcy over the whole question of  family and the rights of the individual. There are some perceptive flash backs to her own courtship with Darcy and its ups and downs. We see the tensions between a married couple ebb and flow with strong undercurrents and tides, especially between two from different strata of society trying to meld.

Darcy under pressure.

 Lydia played by Jenna Coleman, is amazing, fantastic, grating, awful, depending on how your nerves stand up. She is the Lydia of Pride and Prejudice on steroids and I don’t mean the sort that build muscles. She is as sexy and gorgeous as ever but who on Gods earth would ever want to get near Coleman’s version of a pouting, ultra vain, over the top, attention seeking little hussy. Jenna Coleman has produced a virtuoso performance, but as I say, that opinion depends on your nerves.

Jenna Coleman as Lydia

 Mrs Bennet, who is played excellently by Rebecca Front, grates on the nerves too, not quite so much as Lydia but, in the tradition of all great Mrs Bennets, she is a handful and the two of them, Lydia and Mrs Bennett, are put in a carriage and driven away from Pemberley for their own sakes, and I suspect for the audiences sakes too, just to provide a little respite you understand, while the murder is being dealt with.

One can see why, and this is one of the many subplots, Wickham, in the words of Paul Simon in that wonderful song, The Boxer,  “I took some comfort there.”  produces an illegitimate child. One can only sympathise. His wife is a monster. Do two monster deserve each other?

There are some laugh out loud comic scenes in this dark drama. The court scene set in a coaching inn yard  has humour and pathos and a certain comic rustic quality such as the mechanicals in Shakespeare’s, A Midsummer Nights Dream. There are also the cottage scenes which could be straight out of a Thomas Hardy novel, The Return of the Native or perhaps Far From The Madding Crowd. The coaching inn yard is where Wickham is first tried. It is like a local magistrates courts deciding whether the case should go to the high court. The locals adamantly, vociferously and dramatically, in a country yokel sort of way, find him guilty of course. So to the high court Wickham must go.


 Autopsy

It matters not a jot if some of you worked out who the murderer is in the first episode. There are so many rich layers of relationships, references and meanings that swirl about this mini-series it is very very worthwhile. It is so much more than a murder mystery. Now as I have admitted at the start I am not one to watch TV and film adaptations, but this is good, very good and I bet, for those aficionados of the TV and the films, up there with one of the best and one of the most inventive.

I have not seen the first episode. I will watch the second and final episode and then I WILL go back to BBC i-player and watch all three from the first to the last and that is something, coming from me.



7 comments:

  1. Dear Tony,
    first of all Happy Holidays!

    If you like the serie I am sure I will. I know very little about Matthew Rhys apart from he is a handsome man, but I do love Anna Maxwell!

    I hope this serie will be in dvd so we can buy it.

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  2. Wow! With such a ringing endorsement from YOU, I MUST see this and will surely like it. I hadn't heard of it yet, so I'm really glad you wrote about it. This looks like just the thing for my next Limey Day (my friend's husband's name for when three of us ladies get together for a full day of British films and television every th ree months).

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  3. I have just finished watching the last episode. Very neatly rounded off. A little too neatly if truth be told
    and I don't think it was as satisfying as last nights episode. However, taking the three parts as a whole, very good. Yes, very good. I wonder if it could be shown as one whole in the cinema? It is definitely sumptuous. The filming was magnificent.
    So who would have thought it?
    Jane Austen can lie peacefully in her grave beneath the vaulted roof of Winchester Cathedral.
    None of her characters are really evil, even Wickham, now are they?
    The best bit was the hanging scene. Made my heart jump and Marilyn and I gasped!!!
    For all you Americans with a future interest in the series, it was a great cowboy, Tombstone, hanging!!! ha! ha!

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  4. A moment or two of disappointment was Penelope Keith's role as Lady Catherine de Bourg.
    Penelope Keith was taken to the heart of the British public in the 1970's sit com The Good Life as the pretentious, snooty, domineering and bossy Margot, neighbour to Tom Good, who also had a heart of gold, as soft as butter.
    As Lady Catherine de Bourg she wafts into tonights Pemberley, officious and bossy but without the venomous, bitter centre of a true de Bourg. She lasts a few minutes before Elizabeth, a consumate expert at dealing with Lady Catherine now, wafts her away with not so much force as needed to wave a feather. Penelope Keith could do this so much better with a bit of effort.

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  5. Tony, now I *really* must see it -- I love Penelope Keith!

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  6. I also like the mini series but to be honest I found the book a bit too slow. Have you read the book?

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  7. Hi Sarah. No, I have not read the book. I tend not to read "spin offs," or watch the film adaptations. It seems to me that there is a great tidal swell of people leeching off Jane Austen in so many ways. I tend to take a stand on all that.

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