Friday, 5 September 2014

Death Comes to Pemberley Adaptation

Please note - there are some spoiler-ish comments in the below, in italics, so if you want to avoid them, skip the italic section

Death Comes to Pemberley adaptation
When I heard that Death Comes to Pemberley was being adapted I was pretty excited that we were going to get some new Austenesque adapted for the screen. Then I read the book, and I was much less excited, because I didn’t like it all that much! You can see my review of the book here. There were some issues from the book that I hoped they were going to fix for the adaptation, such as Elizabeth’s uncharacteristic blandness, and Lydia being completely obnoxious and over the top so I tuned in with millions of other people to watch the 3 part Death Comes to Pemberley.

In the adaptation of Death Comes to Pemberley, as in the book, the story is set six years after the end of the events in Pride & Prejudice. The story centres around Denny being murdered after getting out of a carriage and running into Pemberley woods. Wickham is found with his friend’s blood on his hands, and says that he has killed him. This is taken to be a confession, and Wickham stands to be accused of murder, but Wickham later clarifies that his meaning was that he was to blame for Denny’s death, by arguing with his friend, which is what caused him to leave the carriage and run off into the woods. Despicable as Wickham has been in the past, has he really stooped to murder? And if he’s innocent, how will he escape hanging when the circumstances around the death all point to his guilt?

There were things I liked and things I didn’t about this adaptation. First things first, let’s look at the casting.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Elizabeth and DarcyFor most Austen fans the most important parts in this would be Elizabeth and Darcy:

Elizabeth is played by Anna Maxwell Martin, who I recognised as Bessy Higgins from North and South. I think she was the wrong choice for the role, for several reasons. Firstly, Elizabeth in DCtP is supposed to be 26 years old. Ms Maxwell Martin is 36 and in this age of naturalistic makeup in period dramas and high-definition TV she looks 36.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Elizabeth

Secondly, I don’t think the actress makes a good Lizzy even if she had been the right age – the physical description we have of Lizzy from Pride & Prejudice isn’t that detailed but we are expecting dark eyes and a light figure. We know she was the second prettiest girl in the Bennet family, ‘second in birth and beauty to Jane’ and one of the ‘brightest jewels’ in Hertfordshire. Ms Maxwell Martin is slim but she doesn’t fit the other criteria. In addition to this, although the Lizzy in the DCtP book was like cardboard cut out, most viewers will be expecting to see a vivacious Lizzy and Ms Maxwell Martin doesn't play her that way, aside from only once in the three episodes, when she gets to give Lady Catherine some stick. Most of the time she slinks about looking equal parts exhausted and haunted. Another thing that is very odd is that Lizzy, though seen on several different days in the adaptation, only appears to own two dresses!

Death Comes to Pemberley - DarcyAs for the casting of Darcy, I didn’t mind that as much, although he also looks too old to me.  Darcy is supposed to be about 34 or 35 and he looks about 40, but that isn’t helped by how dour he is played, and he’s also incredibly pale in it! I’ve seen the actor in real life, and he looks younger than he did in DCtP. Darcy’s physical description in Pride & Prejudice is only that he is tall and has handsome features. This is subjective but I think Matthew Rhys is fairly handsome, but he isn’t tall enough for the role. It has been pointed out to me that Colin Firth isn't that tall but his proportions must be different, because on screen I think Rhys looks fairly short. This isn’t helped by him often being seen with Colonel Fitzwilliam who appears to be extremely tall here. It is such a shame that they didn’t go for somebody more like Richard Armitage, who, though he is also older than the role to be played, is around the same age as Matthew Rhys and is both tall and very handsome.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Lydia and Wickham
Jenna Coleman plays Lydia Wickham, and I think she is perfect for the role, although this could just be because she fits my mental image of Lydia. She must have been fairly pretty for Wickham to have eloped with her and she is described in P&P as having a ‘fine complexion’. I am pleased to say that Lydia in the book (who is too much of a whiner with a chip on her shoulder to be believable) is here played as only realistically annoying!  The scriptwriters did an excellent job with this part. Matthew Goode plays Wickham, and I thought he looked the part and played it well. In fact, I would say that the Wickhams are probably the thing I liked best about this adaptation, they felt real to Austen's characters.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Georgiana Darcy
Another piece of casting that I thought would please most people is that of Eleanor Tomlinson as Miss Darcy, I thought she was very good, though she had to do a public display of emotion in front of the servants which is not the thing in those times!

Death Comes to Pemberley - Chatsworth
Chatsworth is ‘cast’ as Pemberley.  Many people think that Chatsworth was Jane Austen’s model for Pemberley due to the description of the landscape around Pemberley matching that of Chatsworth but since Chatsworth is actually mentioned in Pride & Prejudice I prefer to think of something a bit different, particularly as Chatsworth has an entrance hall, seen several times in the adaptation, which I would describe as quite fussy in style rather than what I’d imagined for Pemberley from the description in the book, for example the furniture has ‘less of splendour and more real elegance’ than Rosings so I’d imagine something a bit less ornate.
Death Comes to Pemberley - Henry Alveston
However all of the rest of the rooms and outside locations are just lovely. This is certainly a very attractive adaptation to watch, a real feast for the eyes.

There are quite a few things that are changed from the book. I don't want to spoil it for anybody who hasn't seen it yet, so without giving too much away I will say that the focus of the story shifts. The book is really centred on Darcy and they gave a lot of his part of the story to Elizabeth. This has the advantage of making her character more central but the flip side of this is that it pushes Darcy to the side a bit. He is quite a different character in the adaptation from the book, which I thought was a shame, because the character of Darcy was about the only thing I liked about the book! The dynamic between Darcy and Elizabeth is also very different, as is Darcy's attitude towards his sister. I felt that though Elizabeth's character was built up for the adaptation it was at the expense of the character of Darcy. There was also a sex scene in the adaptation that wasn't in the book, and though I don't generally object to sex scenes I didn't like it, to me it felt intrusive.

Death Comes to Pemberley - Colonel Fitzwilliam
The character of Colonel Fitzwilliam was also quite different from Pride & Prejudice. The character was made very different in the book Death Comes to Pemberley and although he doesn't seem to me like the Colonel Fitzwilliam we know and love, he was far more likeable than the DCtP book character.

As for the mystery, since I'd read the book I already knew what happened on the night poor Denny got killed, so it's hard to know if I'd have worked it out in advance. In the book I worked out places where things were a bit fishy but that is pretty much as far as I got, I enjoy cosy mysteries but it doesn't mean that I'm particularly good at working them out!

On the whole, the adaptation is fairly entertaining. If I was less of a fan of Austen’s work I think I would have enjoyed it more though, because there were things which kept flagging up as wrong or unlikely that I may not have noticed if I wasn’t so familiar with the characters. I would definitely recommend watching it, although it’s not an adaptation I can see myself buying to watch again and again. I’d give it 3½ stars.

3.5 star watch

And now for the spoiler section! Look away now if you haven't seen the adaptation yet, but if you'd like to come back after you've seen it and share your thoughts on it then I'd love to know what you think.

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No really, you'll spoil it for yourself...

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What I thought of it in a bit more detail:


The main change for me is how much the focus changed from Darcy to Elizabeth. Elizabeth is like wallpaper in the book, seen and there, but lifeless. In the adaptation she does a lot of investigating into the events surrounding Denny’s death. I didn’t think this was a good change because Darcy is a magistrate, and part of this role would include investigating into the cause of deaths. He has additional cause to do it here, because Wickham is connected with his family through marriage, and because despite all his past with Wickham he cannot believe that Wickham would become a murderer. The fact that he does half a job makes him appear to be pretty ineffectual and willing to let down a lot of people.  

He is also shown, unfairly, to be trying to push Georgiana into a ‘suitable’ marriage rather than marrying a husband of her choice. This would be so hypocritical of him, since he married the woman of his choice. However, in the book, he isn’t pushing Georgiana at all. It really annoyed me that the filmmakers would sacrifice Darcy’s character in this way, and make him a lesser man. There were many things I didn’t like about the book of Death Comes to Pemberley, but one thing I think P. D. James did well was to capture Darcy’s character, and I wouldn’t say that about the adaptation, he is more like Darcy at the beginning of Pride & Prejudice rather than Darcy at the end of the book.

The Darcy’s marriage also gives the impression of being an unhappy union, with Elizabeth worrying that he has regretted marrying beneath him. However, this is not something that I felt from the book, if anything, Darcy worries that Elizabeth may have had feelings for George Wickham. This is another reason why I didn’t like Elizabeth doing all the investigating, as her efforts to save Wickham may have given credence to her having feelings for him. The adaptation also features a sex scene. Now, I don’t mind sex scenes in general, but this one came out of nowhere. To me it felt intrusive and unnecessary. I can only imagine that it was included to show some closeness between Elizabeth and Darcy, but the book never gave me the impression that their marriage was unhappy or that they were not close.

Oddly, the Wickhams appear to have a happier marriage than the Darcys, with true affection between them. This is not something I feel likely from Pride & Prejudice, where it is said ‘His affection for her soon sunk into indifference: her's lasted a little longer’ but it was actually nice to see and quite touching. It’s just a shame that Elizabeth and Darcy’s marriage is shown to be unhappy.

Another character I thought was portrayed differently to the Death Comes to Pemberley book is that of Colonel Fitzwilliam, who is extremely hard and unlikeable in the book. Here, although he isn’t shown to be lovely, he doesn’t come across in the same way.

What did you think of the adaptation? If you leave a comment containing spoilers, please flag them up so people can avoid reading them if they haven't watched it yet :)

6 comments:

  1. Thanks for this, Ceri!
    It was so entertaining, a vindication almost, to read my own thoughts in your post, one by one :D

    Didn't notice the 2 dresses LOL, but yes, he was too short for D and she was SO not pretty enough for E, and not vivacious enough either!

    Richard Armitage for Darcy, oh, that would have been a sight for sore eyes!! Wasted on DCtP perhaps, so fingers crossed, maybe they'll cast him in an adaptation of another fanfic novel, before he grows too old to be Darcy - just not in the zombies one please!!!!!

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    1. Thank you for commenting. I was a little worried about posting this because somebody accused me of being ageist when I said she was too old, but I don't see how it's ageist to say that somebody playing a 26 year old character should believably look that age.

      I was on twitter when Elizabeth appeared in a different dress and there were other people watching it who were also celebrating a scene with her wearing something different at last!

      Lovely Richard is getting a little old for Darcy really, unless it's a sequel. I would have loved to have seen him as Darcy! Do you reckon he could manage a Mr Knightley?!

      I don't see the point in this zombies movie. Aren't zombies passée now? Why won't they adapt a book that Jane Austen fans actually like?! The filmmakers seem determined to win over new fans to Jane Austen rather than please the fans that are already there!

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  2. I could not have said it better. Thanks for saying what I was thinking. ;)

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  3. Hi! I think the adaptation is better than the book, but I didn't like it very much. The locations are wonderful, and so the colors, the particulars (the kitchen, the table prepared for the ball...), but I think Anna M. Martin wasn't the best choice for Lizzy, and the scene from the past is very bad. Then, Elizabeth seems for the most part of time to be very sad and unhappy, and Darcy seems a man very different from that who married Elizabeth, it seems to me that he has not changed and that he has forgotten all that he learned thanks to his wife.
    Lydia and Wickham are very lovely, I have always thought their marriage would be miserable and unhappy, while the scene in prison is very sweet. And we see for a second a part of the youngest Bennet I did not imagine, during the scene with the mirror. It was funny to see scenes with Lydia and her mother, but I was a little disappointed not to see Bingley (I like him and Jane very much!).
    Georgiana is lovely, too, and I agree with you about Col.Fitzwilliam, poor character!!
    (I hope I was able to express my thought, English is not my language).

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    1. Hi Carmen, thanks for commenting. I agree with everything you've said! Darcy is more like Darcy before he met Elizabeth than the man who married her. I didn't expect to find Lydia and Wickham so touching, it was a real surprise.

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