Death Comes to Pemberley: Part 2

Darcy and Elizabeth (Matthew Rhys and Anna Maxwell Martin). They might look happy now, but just wait.

George Wickham is in jail facing trial for the murder of his best friend, Captain Denny. He says he didn’t do it and we believe him, but without a more likely perpetrator Wickham will swing for the crime.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth is distraught believing that Darcy will blame her for bringing Wickham back into their lives. She’s fretful. He’s distant. They bicker unkindly over the betrothal of Darcy’s sister Georgiana to Colonel Fitzwilliam or Henry Alveston. They are not behaving like the Elizabeth and Darcy everyone loves to love.

All around them, things are most confusing and un-Austen-like, making Part 2 of Death Comes to Pemberley a bit of a muddle.

On various comment pages, viewers have remarked on the lack of chemistry between Elizabeth and Darcy—more specifically between Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys, who portray them. It’s a valid complaint, but I wondered if it was fair since Death Comes to Pemberley, based on the novel by P.D. James, is a crime story, not a romance. Still, in Part 2 of the dramatization, the lack of warmth is palpable and even a love scene (yes, a love scene) doesn’t ignite a flame. All the beautiful scenery and Empire waists in the world can’t disguise this.

George Wickham (Matthew Goode). Is this the face of a guilty man?

In trying to cover Wickham’s trial and to maintain a connection to the spirit of Pride and Prejudice, the dramatization departs from James’s novel and becomes disjointed. Even a brief appearance by Penelope Keith as Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is more distracting than elucidating. (No one is happier than I am to watch Penelope Keith in anything, but if you weren’t already familiar with the story would you know who her character was?)

Mrs. Younge (Mariah Gale), we hardly knew ye.
The climax, which in the novel is a bit far-fetched, becomes silly on the screen. The character of Mrs. Younge (Mariah Gale), who is pivotal to the story, isn’t fully clarified. Characters come and go without introduction or explanation, and everyone wears a pained expression.

On the other hand, newly introduced scenes between Elizabeth and her sister Lydia (Jenna Coleman) provide welcome relief from the overwrought storyline. Lydia’s more likeable and more redeemable here than in James’s novel; Wickham (Matthew Goode) as well.

It all began with such promise, but fizzled out well before the end. If I were grading Death Comes to Pemberley, I’d give it a B: diverting if you’re not too demanding, but largely forgettable.

The teasers after the broadcast revealed that James Norton, who played Henry Alveston in Death Comes to Pemberley, will star with Robson Green in Grantchester, a mystery series based on the books by James Runcie. We’ll see that in January. It kicks off the new expanded Masterpiece lineup that will add at least 20 more hours of programming to our regular Sunday night dates with Masterpiece throughout the year.

Next week, it’s Masterpiece Contemporary with Turks & Caicos, the second part of the Johnny Worricker spy trilogy starring Bill Nighy and written by David Hare. Part 1 was Page Eight, which was broadcast in 2011. With the air and snow already falling in New England, a trip to the islands sounds appealing.

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.

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