Since Jane Austen is part of the public domain, there are countless adaptations of her novels, including (and most frequently) Pride and Prejudice. Some come to us in the form of retelling the original text, and others reimagine the world after Darcy and Elizabeth confess to their love for one another. Masterpiece PBS’ Death Comes to Pemberley is the latter, adapted by P. D. James’ novel of the same title; it’s a story worth including in the canon universe. It stars renowned stars like Matthew Rhys (The Americans), Matthew Goode (A Discovery of Witches), Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who), Anna Maxwell Martin (Motherland), Eleanor Tomlinson (Poldark), James Norton (Grantchester), and more in an utterly creative mystery romance, perfect for viewing in the autumn.
Death Comes To Pemberley, like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, doesn’t get nearly as much attention as it should. Yes, faithful adaptations like BBC’s Pride and Prejudice (1995) and Joe Wright’s 2005 version are fantastic and rightfully praised, but let’s give it up for the two with unique concepts that twist the beloved rivals-to-lovers story. If you’ve ever wondered what Darcy and Elizabeth are like as a married couple, there are answers here. There’s also more of Wickham, Lydia, and, most importantly, Georgina Darcy—the one character I always wished we’d have more of in the original text.
There’s plenty to appreciate about the mysterious tale that follows life after the proposal. For starters, while we spend very little time in Pemberley despite the importance of the ancestral home, the setting makes the story all the more glorious. Pemberley’s significance in Pride and Prejudice is something we could never spend too much discussing; thus, having this story take place there proves its vitality without forcing us to dig deeper. (Not that we mind digging deeper, but what we’ll always take more of is Pemberley.)
Elizabeth and Darcy are at their best here, bringing to our screens the warmth of their relationship and the easy flow of their conversations even while disagreements arise. While some might argue that we could’ve used more of their relationship, the quiet beats of tenderness we get are enough to show us plenty. The mini-series allows them to be beautiful, brave, and ugly, all while reminding viewers that improper communication is a darkness that often clouds marriages. Yet, in the end, they find their words, and through it all, they try, filling in necessary gaps and giving viewers plenty of layers to dig into.
Georgiana and Henry, Death Comes To Pemberley’s Underrated Love Story
Still, more than anything, Georgiana and Henry Alveston’s (Norton) romance often stood out as the most underrated gem in this adaptation. They’re the perfect mix of sunshine and sunshine coming together in a society where they shouldn’t be, yet thankfully will. As Darcy objects when another prospect seems to be a better fit, his hypocrisy is brought centerfold to showcase the detail that change isn’t always immediate. Elizabeth made Darcy better, but it’s seldom effortless to alter beliefs entirely overnight. It’s different when it was his heart at the forefront, but he doubles down on his views regarding protecting his sister, which thus targets the misogyny of the time in a rather riveting fashion. It’s not so much his prejudice that’s at play here, but it’s the belief that as the man of the house, he must do what’s right to secure his sister a foundation where she’ll be taken care of by her spouse.
Nonetheless, Darcy’s involvement in the relationship aside, Georgiana’s characterization in this adaptation is one of the critical facets that makes it so underrated. She’s a character readers should’ve wanted to know more of, and when we do finally see her, it’s not only satisfying but complex. Yes, her grace and kindness are a protruding presence throughout the three-episode mini-series, but there’s a slow-drawn fire in her, too, that’s entirely understandable and brilliant to witness. Tomlinson is the perfect actress to bring her to life as her means of touching on complexities in kindhearted characters is no small feat. She was phenomenal at every instant in Poldark, and the same can be said for her embodiment of Georgiana.
The quiet longing that’s achingly tangible between Georgiana and Henry makes the mini-series a delight to follow as it relies heavily on showing us the desires within instead of vocalizing them aloud in the end. We know that there’s something special here from the moment the two lock eyes, and thereby, their declarations at the end feel incredibly earned.
The Mystery of it All
Further, the central conflict centering around Wickham’s trial makes him an even more captivating character than when he’s initially introduced to us in the books. (It could also be my biased opinion that Matthew Goode makes every character he plays riveting, and I have no qualms in admitting this.) Still, without giving too much away in case anyone’s here who has yet to read or watch the adaptation, how the mysteries (yes, plural) evolve provide one clever and shocking twist after another. While I’m not a fan of one of the presented tropes, because it doesn’t occur with any of the primary romances like Darcy and Elizabeth’s or Georgiana and Henry’s, it doesn’t bother me as much as it could have.
As annoying as Lydia continues to be, the mini-series provides quiet opportunities to feel for her and the mess she’s gotten herself into. It adds layers to her story as a Bennet woman and Wickham’s wife, along with the perils of a woman’s position in a man’s world. So much of what we see is a direct result of the toxic upbringing highly dominant at the time. If Lydia, like Georgiana, was raised with a better foundation, could she have found a better-suited life? There’s a reason she finds herself in the hands of Wickham, yes, but how much of that are her beliefs versus her mother’s teachings?
In general, Death Comes to Pemberley is a thoughtful, intrinsically crafted adaptation. While I cannot speak about how accurate it is to James’ novel, as an Austen fan, it satisfies every withdrawal regarding wanting to see more of her characters. Fans often fight over whose depiction of Darcy they prefer, and while it’s often Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen’s in the ringer, I’ll throw in my hat for Matthew Rhys. And though this might be an unpopular opinion, I’m standing by it firmly—Matthew Rhys is the best Mr. Darcy. His mannerisms are unmatched, and the gleam in his eyes is entirely indescribable. He brings a fire to Darcy’s stoicism that’s so innately warm that a man in love has never been more dreamy.
Death Comes to Pemberley not only makes for perfect viewing during the autumnal season, but it’s also delightful year-round. Or, rather, as pleasant as darker elements such as murder and scandal can be. It’s full of romance, intrigue, remarkable performances, and beautiful shots that bring an unbeatable glow to Chatsworth House. I mean, Pemberley.
Gissane (pronounced Geese-enny) or, as people often call her, "Goose," is a Christ fan above all and a romance enthusiast who's taken her Master's degree in English and love for essays into writing lengthy analyses about pop culture.
She is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of Marvelous Geeks Media and the co-host of Lady Geeks' Society Podcast. She drinks too much coffee, wants to live in a forest, and cries a lot because of her favorite characters. She's a member of The Cherry Picks and can also be found writing features for Looper.