Friday, October 31, 2014

A Quick Review: DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY - PBS Masterpiece Mystery

Just finished watching Episode One on the PBS (available until Nov. 2nd, I think) website. DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY is based on the book by mystery great P.D. James. A book I'd very eagerly looked forward to because, after all, P.D. James created the Commander Adam Dalgliesh books, ipso-facto, this Jane Austen pastiche had to be good.

Boy was I wrong. The book is dreadful.So bad I couldn't even finish it. But I won't go into details here. I wrote about my disappointment earlier this year and that's enough.

Somehow I though the television film would have to be better than the book. Right? PBS. Masterpiece Mystery. Matthew Rhys. Need I say more?

Gee whiz, I was wrong again.

If this first episode is anything to go by, I won't be watching the second or the third. This is dreary stuff, limp and uninspired, even hard to understand. The production is abysmally cast with people whose accents don't seem to be quite the proper thing. Several of them sound almost American in tone and we know they are Brits. The dialogue has no crispness, no Austen tone at all. This is Regency England or at least, a few years past the Regency - mid-19th century. So what gives?

The casting is so entirely wrong. Even Matthew Rhys seems not able to live up to Pemberley, that glorious house. Actually, the house itself is the best thing about the production. The camera-work is wonderful too and the scenery. But ladies and gents, that's not enough.

In comparison to the superb PRIDE AND PREJUDICE (1995) starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle and an incredibly fine cast, this production is just lame. There I've said it. Lame and boring.

Anna Maxwell Martin (who is wonderful in THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE) is entirely miscast, lost in the part of Elizabeth Bennett Darcy. She looks haggard, not at all lovely, her costumes so ill-fitted they make her look less like the lady of the manor and more like a downstairs servant. In one scene she is wearing this dreary hat that any housemaid might wear and wearing it askew - didn't someone notice? She looks NOTHING like the Elizabeth Bennett so wonderfully played by Jennifer Ehle. I'm talking about the character's style and zest. In comparison, this Elizabeth Bennett looks like a washerwoman.

But the rest of the lackluster cast including the Bennett mother, father and sisters are no better. Who are these people? You'll note that I don't bother to name names. One is hard put to differentiate between them.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy is nice to look at but a bit too rugged in my opinion, not refined enough, and hardly seems in command of his surroundings.

What ever happened to the delightful Miss Bennett? Has marriage to Darcy turned her into a drudge?  From the first she appears to be wearing the same ugly green dress for an entire day - morning to night, even though company is expected - a ball is planned at Pemberley.

 Later, sister Jane shows up in an outfit almost the same color as Liz's - they blend into each other - something that I would have thought was a costume design no-no. The men's neckcloths and linen appear damp and soiled and not at all the sort of thing that would have been worn by people of this social class. Yes, it's the country, but really, would they have all looked so sloppy?

What the heck happened here? Did they run out of money? Attention to detail, the niceties of costume and language are the main reasons we love these sorts of things. When all that is missing all that's left is soap opera  - and not very good soap opera at that. Oh yeah and there's a murder. But the guy who's killed is no one we have any emotional interest in. So from the first we're hampered by lack of connection.

I simply had to write this tonight. I'm sorry to be so harsh, but I was SO disappointed. I hate when that happens.


  1. Am so disappointed. Was looking forward to the book first.

    1. But everyone's different, Mystica. You have to see for yourself.
      Best way to judge. :)

  2. Hi Yvette - have not seen this production but there were a fair few similar comments on this side of the pond, which probably made up my mind for me!

    As for the superb Anna Maxwell
    Martin, I too really enjoyed her performance (and just....EVERYTHING!) about The Bletchley Circle! Whoever did the research for that drama got it spot on! We're revisiting Bletchley Park, yet again, in a few weeks as my daughter is studying for Masters Degree in WW2 Military History - any excuse to dig into the past! (She loves the re-enactment side of things, too - so yours-truly is usually involved in creating 1940's style fashion......!)

    1. The funny thing is that I purposely didn't read any reviews of this because I didn't want to be swayed one way or the other. I hadn't heard anything negative though - so I was a little leery of putting in my two cents. But jeez, what a terrible production.

      I love your daughter's chosen Masters Degree subject. One of my favorite eras as well. Why don't you post some pix of your 1940's creations? Or did you and I missed them?

      THE BLETCHLEY CIRCLE can be frustrating at times - the way the women are treated. All the great work they did in the war forgotten.

      Anna Maxwell Martin is just all wrong for the part. I can't imagine whose idea it was to cast her and then dress her like a scullery maid.

  3. I'm with you completely Yvette - the TV version is so much more enjoyable than the book! I sometimes wonder if it was written with that in mind ...

    1. But this TV version didn't work at all, Sergio. Or at least, it stayed too true to the book which was a mistake. And the casting was, well, a disaster.

  4. I watched this when it was first on TV - a couple of years ago (?) with great anticipation. As you said written by PD James ( a name to trust) and a chance to catch up with Darcy and Elizabeth, what could go wrong?! First and foremost (as you say) right from the start was the woeful miscasting and from then on in just about everything. I too gave up after the first episode, I just didn't care who did what to whom or why. Very disappointing.

    1. Jennywren we are SO in agreement. I'm glad I'm not the only one who's seen it and thinks so. You know how you go into a thing expecting the best and then what passes before your eyes is so dismal you can hardly believe it? That was my experience.

      'Woeful' - that's the correct word. And by the way - who were those people in the cottage???

  5. Maybe this is the reason I got underwhelmed and turned the channel to watch "The Good Wife." I was wondering why I was bored by the production, nothing seemed to matter.

    And I, too, loved Anna Maxwell Martin in The Bletchley Circle. She was fantastic, her every expression noteworthy.

    I don't think I'll watch the coming episodes, but stay with Julianna Margolis and Christine Baranski, although some of the excitement is gone without Will.

    1. Kathy, I stopped watching THE GOOD WIFE the moment Will was killed off. To me it was an insult - it was like all the time I'd invested in the show and that relationship was thrown in the garbage. As much as I love Alan Cumming, Christine Baranski and Julianna Margolis, I won't go back.

      I watched DEATH COMES TO PEMBERLEY on the pbs website - fascinated by its awfulness.Afterwards I went to bed and watched a Jesse Stone episode with Tom Selleck, one of those actors who, the older he gets, the better he looks. :)

  6. Gosh, we women of a certain age sure do notice good-looking actors. It's incredible what I notice that I barely did years ago.


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