TV Review: Masterpiece’s ‘Death Comes To Pemberley’

Masterpiece Death Comes to Pemberley TV

A “Pride and Prejudice” sequel/murder mystery? That alone should be a sufficient come-on to rouse English-lit majors and awaken “Masterpiece” viewers, but “Death Comes to Pemberley” — a two-part movie adapted from P.D. James’ novel — has the extra advantage of being perfectly cast and extremely entertaining, even for those who might need a Jane Austen refresher course. The whodunit, frankly, takes a backseat to simply luxuriating in the atmosphere, as Anna Maxwell Martin and “The Americans’” Matthew Rhys portray one of literature’s most famous couples, with Matthew Goode as Wickham, the amiable rogue who nearly came between them.

The story begins six years after the aristocratic Darcy (Rhys) swept the poor Elizabeth (Maxwell Martin) off her feet, and she has become the lady at his sprawling estate. Of course, the path to true love in these environs is always complicated, though that discomfort here falls to Darcy’s sister (Eleanor Tomlinson), who is presented with two viable, and rivalrous, suitors.

Still, the central couple’s idyllic existence is suddenly thrown for a loop by a murder in the woods, one that implicates Wickham (“The Good Wife’s” Goode), who remains a peripheral if irritating part of their lives, reluctantly, via his marriage to Elizabeth’s sister Lydia (Jenna Coleman). At this point, Maxwell Martin could probably use some help from her “Bletchley Circle” mates, as both Elizabeth and Darcy find themselves sifting through clues pertaining to what really happened.

While the murder plot could easily have overwhelmed the material — turning this into some corseted, 19th-century version of “CSI” — writer Juliette Towhidi and director Daniel Percival’s adaptation manages to deftly putty in gaps, employing flashbacks to loop this follow-up back into the original story. They have also captured the strain that cultural mores place on an independent spirit like Elizabeth, creating conflict between her and Darcy without undermining their now-mature romance.

As usual, the wealth of available British talent also enables the producers to feature top players in relatively modest roles, from Trevor Eve as Hardcastle — a longtime antagonist of Darcy’s, who conducts the investigation — to Rebecca Front and James Fleet as Elizabeth’s parents.

Airing on successive Sundays with each chapter running a brisk 83 minutes, the project is the latest addition to a “Masterpiece” lineup that’s doing a lot more than just killing time between editions of “Downton Abbey,” although the grand estate, sweeping country vistas and subplots involving the Pemberley servants can’t help but scratch that itch to a degree.

Granted, not all of the franchise’s “Mystery!” entries in particular merit its lofty moniker, but this is one production in which everyone involved can rightfully take pride.

TV Review: Masterpiece's 'Death Comes To Pemberley'

(Two-part Movie; PBS, Sun. Oct. 26/Nov. 2, 9 p.m.)

Production

Produced by Origin Pictures and Masterpiece in association with LipSync Prods., Screen Yorkshire and Far Moor Media.

Crew

Executive producers, Ed Rubin, Polly Hill, Hugo Heppell, Justin Thomson-Glover, Patrick Irwin, Rebecca Eaton; producers, David Thompson, Eliza Mellor; director, Daniel Percival; writer, Juliette Towhidi; based on the novel by P.D. James; camera, Steve Lawes; production designer, Grant Montgomery; editor, David Thrasher; music, the Insects; casting, Gary Davy. 3 HOURS

Cast

Anna Maxwell Martin, Matthew Rhys, Matthew Goode, Jenna Coleman, Trevor Eve, Rebecca Front, James Fleet, Tom Ward, Tom Canton, Eleanor Tomlinson

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  1. TrevorF says:

    I don’t care about this, i am making average $5500 a month. There is useful way i found on the internet. If you want to learn it too, just type in google: Willis Mounts Strategy

  2. J. B. says:

    I love the idea of seeing the P&P characters several years on. And truly, Lydia fared better in those six years than her start at marriage boded. Cast her in a Dickens’ story and she’d be dying of consumption after her worthless husband became the gigolo of a wealthy foreign woman. Anyway, reading the book periodically over the course of fifty years I was entranced with the Ehles / Firth version in the ’90s. It was a nearly perfect transliteration of the book not just because of the perfect casting or the gorgeous sets and settings, but because that production crew GOT the period…the manners, the sensibilities, everything…that are key to the story. While that may not be as important when a murder mystery is afoot, getting those much-loved and EXTREMELY well-known fictional people right is key to the enjoyment and buy-in of this story’s built-in audience — Austen-philes. To that point, as stated so well by others, Elizabeth Bennet Darcy is completely miscast in this production. Her spirit, key to catching and holding Darcy’s attention as “one of the most attractive women of my acquaintance”, and her “fine eyes” are completely missing here. This lady is more like a hard-driven middle-class housewife than the well-loved and -cared for wife of an extremely wealthy man. And Darcy, whatever dark thoughts have been brought to his doorstep by the re-appearance of this sister’s would-be seducer, should be a better man made better yet by the love of a good woman (if you will) than is being portrayed here. And yes, Fitzwilliam, the handsome, most amiable cousin, has now become a dark thug? Badly done, PBS, badly done!

    • Yea says:

      Thank you!!!the casting was bad and the story too. Fitzwilliam was an adorable character. This whole thing made me remember the bad movie of scarlet was . Not even close to the fan fiction book it was based of off. I couldn’t stand the actress playing Elizabeth. I wanted an accurate and believable story of Pride and prejudice. And got this.

    • JENNIFER CARL says:

      What illness does Will Tidwell have/ die of?????

    • Susan Anderson says:

      Spot on, J.B.! :-)

      • Marina says:

        Bravo! J.B. well said.

        For me, 95′ show was a mindblowing experience. It was a nice idea to see “what happened next” but is a pale shadow of the Firth/Ehles version.

  3. C. S. says:

    I’d love to see this cast remake Pride & Prejudice. I love the classic version with Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle as much as any true fan, but it has been 20 years since it was made. 20! Time for a new one, and I’d love to see Anna Martin and Matthew Rys as Elizabeth and Darcy.

  4. S. Collins says:

    Ditto about miscasting Elizabeth. I’ve read every Austen word written, every serious or light attempt to sequel P&P, and seen every version of film, thus believe I am in the camp of true fan. I knew this mini-series would be a tough sell to the Austenites. I enjoyed PD James’ version last summer.
    However, if you’re going to portray literature’s most beloved heroine, don’t dress her in minimalist costumes that mute and contradict the actor’s incredible and to-be-praised efforts. I blame the costume department for this one. Elizabeth wears the same pin in her hair, the most boring of costumes unbefitting to her station, and not a piece of jewellery or attractive bonnet. Wouldn’t she at least have a sentimental or period piece of heir-producing jewellery? I loved the pieces de Burgh was wearing. And could her lady’s maid please do her hair? Seriously distracting!
    Every other actress in the film has been made up to appear more attractive than Elizabeth, even the servants and much older women, and this seems like a deliberate attempt of the crew. The actress is lovely but her best features were hidden and lost in fabrics less appealing than the drapery.
    The actress has been dressed to camouflage into her environment and one has to wonder if this was deliberate. And if so, why? At one point she is wearing the same colour as her couches and wallpaper! Why the stark portrayal? Have the years been hard? Why must she wear only foliage and water colours? There can be only one reason and it is not lack of costuming budget or pragmatic characterizations of a serious lord and his lady: the director want us to believe that our spunky heroine has been reduced to becoming the actual environment of Pemberly as a clever metaphor! To which, we must disagree.
    Please do not think we are trivial to make such observations, Director, Crew, and Cast. Overall it was a lovely job and I also enjoyed the same setting by the pool as the 2005 version. But in future, please try not to let every natural, carved, created, and human element of your Herculean efforts upstage your talented leading lady. If you mean to suggest that Elizabeth has indeed become Pemberly, please make our heroine at least as attractive as the unparalleled setting!

  5. mamkpa2001 says:

    I think Anna Maxwell Martin was totally miscast as Elizabeth Darcy. Her looks distracted me in what was an other wise flawless production. I loved her in the Bletchely Circle and Philomenia. I remember her in a Dr. Who episode. But lets face it, she is no Greer or Keira in the looks department. I think she was a mismatch for Matthew Rhys in the looks department. Why would a rich, good-looking dude like that end up with her? I had to suspend my disbelief to watch that aspect of the movie. The book indicates she was pretty and we have come to expect that in our heroine. All the other woman in the movie were attractive.

  6. I bought this move, DEATH COME TO PEMBERLEY, and I am delighted with all the characters and the plot. I do believe that the main star of this movie is Anna Maxwell Martin. She is not a raving beauty, but her facial and body movements are so darn believable that it cannot be denied, she is the star and does Elizabeth Bennett character beautifully. Matthew Rhys is a perfect Darcy for Ms. Maxell’s Elizabeth, and their love for each other just shines, as it should. Wonderful story by Mr. James. I really has quenched my thirst for more of Jane Austen.

  7. I agree with all the comments below on the miscasting of the parts of Lizzy, Fitzwilliam, and even Darcy.The addition of scenes that were not in the book added nothing to the drama; in fact, I could not imagine Georgiana choosing to marry Fitzwilliam even though she did not love him, exclaiming “I am a Darcy!” I had to re-read the book, and there was no such scene. Fitzwilliam saw how the young people were attracted to each other and quietly squashed his hopes. The rowdy scenes at the inquest and trial were most unrealistic and not in the book. The whole film just did not ring true. No one has mentioned Lizzy’s ridiculous costume; she looked more like a serving maid than the lady of the manor. She wore the same outfit through both episodes which took place over weeks and months. This in an era when ladies changed their clothes at least three times a day! More unflattering attire could hardly be imagined. What a disappointment! As for Darcy, after Colin Firth, I don’t know if anyone could so embody our hero’s qualities! I was very surprised that the reviewer gave such an unqualified rave review.

  8. Henri King says:

    Masterpiece Theater sets the bar for great shows especially period pieces, but this 2 part event was a great let down. The casting of both Elizabeth and Darcy made it difficult to watch as the two actors while talented fell far short of what would be expected of a well bred gentleman of significant wealth and energetic, gracious and very likable Elizabeth. The two were dowdy in character and dress through the whole production. Wickham and Lydia who are suspect in character were both attractive and handsomely dressed. While Wickham has significant character flaws his deportment, manner, and dress shamed Darcy in comparison. The actors playing Lydia and Wickham were a good pairing. Lydia surely gets on ones nerves but did so with stylish wrappings and to her credit knows and excepts Wickham for all his flaws.

    Pemberley was stately but too much staging was done in the hall pass through. Elizabeth and Darcy as depicted would have been better cast in The Christmas Carol then to have been associated with the stateliness of Pemberley.

  9. M. Donnelly says:

    Very disappointing. Neither a masterpiece nor a mystery. Does not do justice to the magnificent writings of either Austin or James. Furthermore, the uninspired casting resulting in a “plain Jane” Elizabeth and a perpetually grim Darcy squelched any possibility that viewers might recall the grand passion that supposedly bound these two improbable lovers.

  10. b.boon says:

    Please do more shows on Pemberley !!!!!!

  11. I completely agree with pretty much everything said here by the audience members. Did the reviewer ever read P&P or see any of the movies?

    Anna Maxwell Martin was completely miscast. I love her acting, and she certainly comes off as intelligent and strong, but in this part she just doesn’t have the joyfull, optimistic, independent-spirit, and quiet vivaciousness that Lizzy Bennett has. Lizzy would never be bothered by gossip about her suitability as Darcy’s choice; in fact, she would see the humor in it! And there was no sparkling eye here. The character seemed old beyond her 25 or so years, cynical, and devoud of humor. Too bad as I would have loved to see Lizzy after 6 years of marriage still holding on to her bouyant spirit!

    I do feel that Matthew Rhys tried very hard to stay true to the real Darcy. Darcy, don’t forget, WAS cold, aristocratic, and arrogant. He had to work very hard to loosen up when Lizzy made him realize how rude he was to others, but a tiger can’t change his stripes, so it’s not surprising that in this series he sometimes appears unpleasant and very business- (or rather Pemberley-)minded.

    Most other parts were well cast: Lydia, Lizzy’s parents, Jane, Wickham, mature Georgiana, and Lady Catherine. But some of these characters’ personalities were not consistent with P&P. For example, Colonel Fitzwilliam was not arrogant, belligerant, and haughty in P&P, so I was very disappointed with how the part was written here. Wickham was definitely given more development, in that he appeared to have a teensy bit of soul of sorts. Maybe it’s possible that he is wising up as he is aging, but it just didn’t feel like the real Wickham.

    I think the biggest flaw (other than Maxwell Martin’s miscasting) is that the light and pleasant spirit of the original was not pulled off. It seemed heavy, plodding, and dry.

  12. Karen says:

    Anna Maxwell Martin is one of my favorite actresses, but she was wrong for this production. I have read the book several times, and Elizabeth was lively, outspoken (sometimes much to her regret). She was attractive, but not in quiet, sweet manner that her sister, Jane, possessed. In no way was she the all-wise, highly composed, plain looking young woman depicted here. Elizabeth would have made some bad judgements about certain people, for which she would later regret and try to straighten out.
    Colonel Fitzwilliam is serious and insensitive here, nothing like the “real” CF. Darcy could pass, I guess, and the same for Lydia and Jane. I guess it’s unfair to compare these characters to Austin’s book, but that was supposed to be the whole idea, anyway.
    Nevertheless, I enjoyed the mystery tremendously.

  13. Mimi says:

    Yes, its a bit slow, and Lydia screeches too much, but I’m really enjoying it! Stop making fun of Elizabeth’s looks. She’s lovely. It’s a bit of indulgent fun to see the beautiful cinemetography and the Darcy-Elizabeth angst which we all know will end when they finally have a nice kiss.

  14. evelynfilmfan says:

    Reblogged this on Films & Series: What about them? and commented:
    As a fan of old English stories, like the ones written by Jane Austen, and English crime series, “Midsomer Murders”, I will probably love a combination of it! “Death comes to Pemberley” an adaptation of P.D. James’ novel, is a three epsiode mini series and a sequel to Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”. Six years after Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth Bennet (Anna Maxwell Martin) had found each other, their lives is turned upside down when there’s a murder in the woods. Main suspect? Mr. Wickham (Matthew Goode), the untrustworthy man who married Lydia Bennet (Jenna Coleman). I hope I can see it this Sunday aswell!

  15. diane oxendaleda says:

    Sadly, I was disappointed in this miniseries Part 1.
    casting for Elizabeth was all wrong. Lizzie was spirited, happy, vocal, and though not as beautiful as her sister Jane, she was of some beauty. I did not see any of those qualities in this actress’s portrayal of Lizzie. The portrayal of Darcy was excellently executed but a bit harsh. Though we know him to be a businessman, he was portrayed as an unfeeling aristocratic man–which we know to be untrue. Darcy was very kind to his servants in P&P, though certainly so in this film.

    • G L says:

      You’ve hit on one of my major criticisms, too. I saw the first episode and came away wondering who these characters were supposed to be, because they were certainly not the ones Jane Austen described.

      After seeing the first episode, I read the book, and some of this problem comes directly from P.D. James’ depiction of the characters. Jane Austen is a superlative writer, whose book is about character, personality, and personal interactions. P.D. James, by contrast, is a mystery writer, and in Death in Pemberley, she has written a book that is driven by events, and very much ignores character.

      Partly because of James’ primary focus on events, the books’ depiction of its characters is different from who they were according to Austen. P. D. James seems uncomfortable dealing with character altogether. Darcy is less commanding and decisive; Elizabeth, where she appears at all, is, as you say, missing her spirit, energy, wit, and vitality. The book suffers from having the first two thirds be a description of events as they unfold, and the final third being a simple explanation of what really happened. There’s not much clever about it at all. James’ attempts to adjust her language to the period, make the book interesting, but the structure and the actual story telling, just like the character treatment, are fairly weak.

      All of the deficiencies of the books’ character development are made even worse in the mini-series. Anna Maxwell Martin is way too dour and serious for the character. Mathew Rhys follows the script’s even weaker depiction of Darcy to the letter, making him worse, still, than the book. The character of Colonel Fitzwilliam is turned into a cad, and that is not the way he is portrayed in the book, or by Austen when she created the character.

      Still odder, and more obvious in part two of the miniseries, are several needless alterations to the details of the story as told in the book. These changes aren’t necessary to convert the tale to the screen, and degrade the story somewhat. Even worse are a couple of gratuitous major alterations that are simply out of place. The sex scene is one, The change in the way Giorgiana’s situation is handled is another. And finally, Elizabeth and Darcy seem to spend almost the entire miniseries bickering. Completely out of character. Elizabeth insults Colonel Fitzwilliam to his face and refuses to apologize. Again, completely out of character.

      The final criticism? Some of the changes to the story are clearly done to sensationalize the video version for what the filmmakers seem to think are modern sensibilities. These are done awkwardly, unnecessarily, and just don’t fit the story or tone very well.

      I did get a kick out of the fact that the filmmakers used the same locations for Pemberley as the ones used in Keira Knightley’s 2005 version of Pride and Prejudice, but all in all, the miniseries takes the weaknesses of an enjoyable, but somewhat weak book, and makes them stand out even more.

  16. Austenlover says:

    I love Jane Austen and Masterpiece Theater but Death Comes to Pemberly was just awful. Really, it was bad. The storyline was idiotic. The casting was terrible and the characters unrecognizable and unlikeable to boot. There was nothing of Austen’s light, witty style. It was definitely NOT a Masterpiece.

  17. mgg says:

    I absolutely love Jane Austen’s P&P. I’ve read the book several times; I own several versions of the movie by various actors and enjoy them all. Very disappointed with portrayal of Darcy and Elizabeth in “MatP; poor directing. “Boring” is what comes to mind. I’ve thoroughly enjoyed Anna Maxwell Martin in her previous films and I think she quite capable of this role with better directing. None of Elizabeth’s character or spirit were captured. Ditto for Matthew Rhys. He has the looks for the role but Darcy’s true character was miserably portrayed. But, I’ll still watch Part 2.

  18. Gigi says:

    Did the reviewer actually watch this? It was so restrained that it was almost painful. Anna Maxwell Martin had not one spark of Lizzie’s independent nature or her wit and humor! What a disastrous casting! Mr Rhys fared a bit better, but he wasn’t very charming. Just mostly sour. Jenna Coleman as Lydia was the best at capturing her character, although a little less squealing would have gotten the job done. This production was lovely to look at, but the whole thing just did not work. Sorry.

    • Susan says:

      Gigi, I totally agree with you! If Mr. Lowry did watch this production, he obviously is not all that familiar with Austen’s P & P. Not only did Anna Maxwell Martin’s portrayal of Lizzie fail to capture Lizzie’s spirit, wit, etc., Martin’s looks were all wrong, as well. By no stretch of the imagination could one describe Ms. Martin’s eyes as “fine.” Her eyes were dull, and totally void of any sparkle or show of wit.

      The foundational problem, though, can only be attributed to P.D. James. Her understanding of Jane Austen’s characters is wanting. (And, yes, I have read the book—it did not ring true!) What nonsense for James to weave in references to both “Emma” and “Persuasion” in her so-called sequel—talk about a contrived story line—James took a page out right out of the Bronte sisters’ technique. Jane Austen’s writing style, on the other hand, was more natural—“a slice of life,” if you will. If it were possible, Jane Austen would be “turning over in her grave” at this ridiculous attempt at a sequel.

      Lowry states, “…writer Juliette Towhidi and director Daniel Percival’s adaptation manages to deftly putty in gaps, employing flashbacks to loop this follow-up back into the original story. They have also captured the strain that cultural mores place on an independent spirit like Elizabeth, creating conflict between her and Darcy without undermining their now-mature romance.” What rubbish by the writers! Elizabeth would have had no problem executing her role as “lady of the manor. “ Anyone who can take on Lady Catherine de Bourgh is up for any challenge! (Elizabeth, after all, is not Jane.)

      The relationship between Elizabeth & Colonel Fitzwilliam was portrayed as almost adversarial, instead of the cordial relationship shown in Austen’s novel.

      Ever the optimist, I was hoping that the television production would negate my dissatisfaction with the novel; it didn’t!

    • Jenevie says:

      i agree totally with this comment,the part of Lizzie was mis-cast,there was no spark or spirit to this character, i was really disappointed.

  19. Elly Hood says:

    Anna Maxwell Martin simply does not look like an “Elizabeth”.

    • Lena Weybeck says:

      How is the Darcy compliment of Elizabeth’s “fine eyes” being honored with this actress. I think she extremely lacks that physical element! Between that & her mousiness, I’m so disappointed.

    • Anna Maxwell Martin is one of the homeliest actresses and so very boring. She is so expressionless to be almost catatonic. Lizzy has certainly lost her “fine” eyes and her looks. Poor Lizzy has not aged well. She appears more like her mother’s sister but with less spark and far less beauty. Lizzy is so faded. If only Darcy had known. Her looks and vivaciousness is what attracted him in the first place. She’s lost her famous wit and sense of humor. Poor Darcy!

    • columbine says:

      More than Knightly did. *That* was a poor casting choice.

  20. Stormy says:

    I read the book and found it a bit overlong and ponderous. This first installment on PBS was well done except the disappointing casting of Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth. She is insipid, homely and lacks any of the spirit exhibited by Jennifer Ehle or Kiera Knightley. Trevor Eve and James Fleet were happy surprises.

  21. Joan nelson says:

    I read p d James book and saw the BBC production on u tube .if you are a p&p fan ,you will love it.although Matthew Rhys does great job as Darcy,who will ever forget Colin firth as mr Darcy!!

  22. I’ve read a few adaptations/continuations of Pride & Prejudice. I personally thought PD James’s version the best.

    Wickham stirring up trouble! And the Darcys have to sort it all out!

  23. jhs39 says:

    I really didn’t care for the book. P.D. James wasted a lot of time recounting incidents and dialogue from Pride and Prejudice, as if anyone who wasn’t already familiar with P&P would actually want to read her murder mystery sequel. Maybe the Masterpiece Theater version will be better.

    • abby says:

      I agree. The book was disappointing, but I only read it to prepare for this Masterpiece production. I’m going in with low expectations, so maybe I’ll be pleasantly shocked. There is another fan fiction series, not a murder mystery, that I did enjoy by Pamela Aiden. It tells P&P from Darcy’s perspective.

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