Friday, January 30, 2015

Death Comes to Pemberly review

Matthew Ryhs and Anna Maxwell Martin in PBS's "Death Comes to Pemberly"

The latest Jame Austen(ish) Masterpiece miniseries sparked my curiosity when it aired at the end of the year (here in the US anyway), but I didn't get around to watching it until its recent release on Netflix (I'm sure I have Netflix to thank for too many hours wasted, it makes movie viewing just too easy!). 

In short, I have mixed feelings about this adaptation of P.D. James' Pride and Prejudice murder mystery sequel. Granted, I have not read the book, so can only judge the film. 

I'll start by stating what I liked about the series...

The scenery and costumes were beautiful and lush. Masterpiece always does a top-notch job with their films.

I have no complaints about the acting (though I'll share some issues I had with the casting shortly). The actors did a fine job.

It held my interest! I watched all three hours of the series in one sitting. 

So what didn't I like about the series?

I think my biggest issue is the plot. I have not read any of the P&P sequels that Austen's followers have written, though to the best of my knowledge there are several, and I thought this one was an odd choice to adapt. The plot centers largely on Mr. Wickham being suspected of murder and, quite honestly, who really cares that much about Wickham? Now, if Darcy would have been accused of murder, that may be a good premise... but, not so. Of course, Wickham's life is not the only thing at stake, but also the Darcy's reputation and good standing as Wickham's family through marriage-- what looks badly for him, will reflect badly on the family... but again, is social standing really enough to grip a reader's/viewer's heart and twist it with sympathy and longing? Not quite. The plot felt, in a word, small. I craved more from a sequel with such a famous predecessor. That said, there was a cute side story involving Darcy's sister Georgiana, which really could have been the main focus of the plot and probably would have been splendid in itself.

My next issue would be the casting choices for Elizabeth and Darcy. Matthew Rhys was almost, almost Darcy worthy, but not quite (in my opinion), though I have no complaints about his acting, I think he actually did a pretty good job. And I like Anna Maxwell Martin, but not as Lizzy, I'm sorry to say. She was just all wrong, I felt.

Lastly, where was the trademark Austen wit!?
There were a few cheeky remarks and some of the social humor that Austen is famous for, but all and all wit was sadly lacking in this film, especially in Elizabeth's character... you don't really see her taking on life's challenges with that vivacious persona that is not merely an aspect of our dear "Lizzy Bennet", but is, in fact, the essence of her character! I'm sure that the author was trying to show that Elizabeth was grown up now and how she would handle a darker real life sort of situation, but it just didn't do it for me.

And even though I said "lastly", I do have one more small complaint, and that is that I felt the love scene was merely gratuitous, placed in the film just for people who would want to see Darcy and Elizabeth in bed together. The original Austen novels are perfect without any of that, so why change it? Albeit, the scene was brief and not too graphic, so it didn't ruin the movie, and sure Darcy and Lizzy are married and all that, but the scene could have cut after they started kissing and it would have been good enough.  

After all that, it kind of sounds like I hated it, but I honestly didn't. It was good... and, really, that's my complaint, it was good, when it could have been great.


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