Death Comes to Pemberley recently popped up on Netflix, and as a Jane Austen enthusiast, I was excited to see they had picked it up. I had been seeing articles, set photos, etc. for some months, so I made the effort to watch it almost immediately. If you are wondering why I hadn’t watched it sooner, it’s because we haven’t paid for television in over 3 years. So yes, I’m fairly out of the loop on most things.
Based on the novel of the same name from 2011 by P.D. James, I have to say I have been less inclined to read any of what is basically fan fiction of one of the most famous love stories in all of literature. This is not a judgement in any regard. I love fan fiction, I write some myself, but what I have discovered in some of the reading I have done is that it lacks the…hmm, what’s a good word…magic?
Jane Austen ran in the circles she was writing about. Modern day writers can only emulate what they’ve studied, read, and seen because we have not lived it first hand, and again, by no mean is this a shortcoming. I love period pieces, and if we only wrote about what we “know”, we wouldn’t have the wide range of diversity we do in any medium. As writers, we each have a voice, and when it comes to something as widely beloved as Pride and Prejudice, you have to get it just right.
The film was broken up into three parts. I’m pretty sure it could’ve been told in two. Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys play our leads, Mr. and Mrs. Darcy in their sixth year of marriage planning their annual ball when tragedy strikes. A murder. Because of the people involved, a wedge is slowly driven between the couple and we are given a glimpse as to the repercussions of following one’s heart instead of one’s head – or at least in the minds of these characters.
The actors are both very good, but I felt Elizabeth was cast incorrectly. She was not the same spirited woman I have come to love and this is where I blame the writing. She seemed weak, and that spark that had attracted Darcy to her in the first place was replaced by insecurity and she was kind of dull. Darcy was too distant, even from the beginning of the film, and because so little is really known of him from the original material beyond those honorable traits we know and love, he too came off a bit dull.
Now, I haven’t been married, so maybe after six years of marriage in this world, they’re a little bored of each other, but when we leave them at the end of Pride and Prejudice, it’s not that I expect the permanent happily ever after, because it is based in “reality”, but I expect more than this. Of course there will be hard times, etc., but I also expect that the challenge they presented to one another would carry over. They should have spirited debates, and still have some spark…well, I think so anyway, and that was missing entirely from this tale.
I didn’t feel/see any spark between these characters, and I almost felt like the obligatory “romantic”, oh, let’s call it what it was, the sex scene was meant to reassure us that they did indeed have “something”, but that doesn’t happen in Jane Austen’s stories, so I know it was meant specifically for modern day audiences, and for me it felt out of place.
There’s an odd side story involving Wickham, played by Matthew Goode, and that does have some bearing on the story overall, but in the vein of a mystery, it was still rather convoluted. The other failing was the absence of Jane and Bingley, the two people dearest to our main characters. I think there were two scenes with Jane, and they didn’t amount to much.
I love the idea of seeing more of two of my favorite characters, as I’m sure does every Janeite, but I would almost prefer to imagine their fates as an open-ended tale without any real knowledge of what happened. Looking back on what I’ve written, it doesn’t sound that promising of a film, but it had its moments, and I was glad to have the opportunity to watch it. If I were flipping channels and it was on, I’d most likely leave it for a bit, but it’s lack of overall charm doesn’t compel me to go out of my way to watch it again.
Well, that’s my take anyway.