Death Comes to Pemberley: Episode 1.

When I checked my blog stats earlier while preparing for Death Comes to Pemberley, I noticed that someone has found my blog by typing “death pemberley utter shite” into a search engine. Something like this has happened before, with By Any Means, months ago, and I was just as amused today as I was back then. While I have decidedly not used these words in conjunction and in the right order, I must have judged some show or episode as utter shite before, at some point down the line… (ah, found it: whoever wrote the query ended up on a rather scornful review of a Season 3 episode of Suits.)

Be that as it may, it’s never quite reassuring to discover something like that just before you’re going to watch the aforementioned period adaptation. I shall therefore put us all out of our misery and tell you up-front that it’s not utter shite. It’s not great, either, though. It’s a bit… well, frankly — having seen other, brilliant and engaging period literature adaptations in BBC tradition — it’s a bit dull.

One thing that has to be said, however: the visual design and direction are stunning.

Alveston, lawyer on horseback
Avelston, the lawyer and friend of Bingley’s, who Georgiana is rather taken with

All involved with the production design and artwork and costumes have done their utmost to make the most of the beautiful locations and the period setting, and Lizzie moving through nature on foot is one motif any avid reader or viewer of Austen’s Pride & Prejudice will be readily familiar with. There are lovely tracking shots, as is tradition in this genre of Adapting the Great British Novel for the Telly.

I should probably mention that I have not read the novel this is based on, the titular work by P.D. James, published in 2011. As fate would have it, a friend sent it to me in the summer, but I’ve not yet had time to stick my nose into it. As it is, I can’t really say where perhaps the adaptation went its own way rather than sticking to the book, and if those changes were beneficial to the plot or not.

Speaking of: the plot. I suppose the suspense is engaging enough, what with the sudden shots fired and Lydia yelling and screaming bloody murder — literally. Wickham’s life’s hanging in the balance (no pun intended) for now and at least one more episode, until the real culprit is apprehended; and the whole thing is mixed in with some healthy Gothic ghost storytelling featuring bad omens (is that part of the novel as well? Someone enlighten me). And then there’s the now rather shady Colonel Fitzwilliam — I liked him very much in P&P, but perhaps it was him that was changed by the war against the French. As I say, it’s suspenseful enough, probably more so for someone who hasn’t read the book and therefore has no idea what’s going on.

The magistrate examining the victim's body

I have a very good idea what’s going on, though, when it comes to the dear Bennet family — Mrs Bennet is as tactless and eccentric as ever, and Lydia can always be relied on for some proper hysterics and not being the brightest LED in the lamp shop. Lizzie’s kind and practical, as ever, and she and Darcy are as in love as I remember them — and, as is Darcy’s wont, a bit austere on the outside, but decidedly playful behind closed doors, when tragedy isn’t looming.

The thing is, I like the actors and actresses just fine, it’s a great ensemble. Matthew Rhys, Matthew Goode, Jenna Coleman, Olivia Martin, Rebecca Front, Trevor Eve… it’s a great cast. And yet, they don’t really manage to reel me in as I had hoped they would. Some of the spark is missing — yes, alright, it’s a murder mystery and we’re all going to be terribly sombre, but I still feel like the acting’s a bit stilted and stiff and one-dimensional from all involved. It’s rather to be expected that this mini series won’t have as much panache and sparkle as for instance Casanova with David Tennant — but, come on, give me some Jane Eyre with Ruth Wilson!

Now, I won’t use the mention of ‘stiff’ as a segue into talking about the deceased, Captain Denny, who was a friend to Wickham and Lydia, right up until a terrible argument about something-or-other to do with Wickham being a great big back of dicks and lies. (Oh dear, and now I have.)

Wickham (Matthew Goode)

Matthew Goode really is the only one — apart from shrieking ladies — bringing some life to the party. It depends on whether he can make me care about Wickham’s fate enough to keep watching with interest. The cad.

Next: Episode 2.

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