Death Comes to Pemberley: Part 1

Darcy and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin) discover that life is more than whist and witticism.

Elizabeth Bennet married Fitzwilliam Darcy and lived happily ever after…

…at least until a dead soldier was found on the grounds of their estate at Pemberley.

Jane Austen didn’t foresee things working out quite this way in 1813 when she brought together Elizabeth and Darcy in Pride and Prejudice.

P.D. James had a different vision when she continued their tale in her 2011 bestseller Death Comes to Pemberley.

Thus we open in a most Austen-like way, with Elizabeth and Darcy preparing to host Lady Anne’s Ball, a tradition begun by Darcy’s late mother and now regarded as the county’s most important social event of the year. They’re in love, they dote on their rambunctious son “Master Fitzwilliam,” and they live in splendor. (Castle Howard was used for the interior scenes at Pemberley and Chatsworth House for the exteriors.)

It’s all just too perfect. And you know P.D. James can’t have that.

Holy Time Travel! Jenna Coleman as Lydia Wickham née Benet.
On the night before the ball, a carriage thunders down the drive to Pemberley. In it is Elizabeth’s younger sister Lydia, screaming bloody murder—literally. She’s convinced that her husband, the ne’er-do-well George Wickham, has been shot and demands that Darcy organize a search party to find him where she left him, in the woods at Pemberley. Find him they do, staggering drunk and crying over the lifeless body of one Captain Denny. “My only friend and I’ve killed him!” Wickham wails.

Of course we know that can’t be true or this would be a very short story.

An investigation must begin. It’s led by a magistrate named Sir Selwyn Hardcastle who, thanks to family business going back a few generations, is no great fan of Darcy’s. “Your position is delicate,” he reminds Darcy. “A murder has been committed on your property and the person responsible could be none other than a brother of yours.”

If you’ve read P.D. James’s novel you’ll have head start on unraveling the complicated relationships in the dramatization. That will be helpful, but perhaps not mandatory. Juliette Towhidi, who wrote the screenplay, ably condenses the characters’ backgrounds and, through the use of flashbacks, elaborates on their connections to each other. This is particularly effective in the case of Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Wickham (Matthew Goode), now brothers-in-law, who were essentially raised as brothers and retain that strong bond despite their differences.

The In-laws: Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (James Fleet and Rebecca Front) arrive at Pemberley.

The cast is filled with familiar faces, starting with Anna Maxwell Martin (of the late, lamented The Bletchley Circle among many other things) as Elizabeth. Rebecca Front, aka Inspector Lewis’s boss in a bonnet, seems to be having fun as Mrs. Bennet. Trevor Eve makes the most of his role as the curmudgeonly Sir Selwyn. Jenna Coleman, better known as Doctor Who’s companion Clara Oswald, brings her adorable energy to Lydia. And it’s worth mentioning Jennifer Hennessy, who plays Mrs. Bidwell, had a memorable role in an episode of Scott & Bailey.

A historical drama based on literature, well-acted, and filmed in exquisite locations; this is precisely the stuff we look to Masterpiece to provide. Happily, we can spend another Sunday evening in the same company next week.

Photo credit: Robert Viglasky/Origin Pictures 2013

Leslie Gilbert Elmanis the author of Weird But True: 200 Astounding, Outrageous, and Totally Off the Wall Facts. Follow her on Twitter @leslieelman.

Read all of Leslie Gilbert Elman’s posts for Criminal Element.


  1. dorothyHayes

    I was impressed that the characters held with this new story, the author stayed true to the original story and has successfully extended it. It’s wonderful and inspires me as an author. The production is excellent and I love the suspense, the actors and the story. It’s a pleasure.

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