Archive for November 4th, 2014

The Strained family group

Dear friends and readers,

Having last week watched the ruined version of Juliette Towhidi’s Death Comes to Pemberley that aired on PBS; as I began the new second half and saw immediately that the centrality of Pemberley itself, which begins Part 2 of the 3 Part British version, was lost in the re-arrangement, and again the sensational so-called thriller elements dominate, I gave up on PBS (not for the first time), watched no more, and instead watched Part 2 of the 180 minute three part Death Comes to Pemberley.

Elizabeth responds to Darcy’s “I will do no such thing” (he refuses to renege on his promise to Fitzwilliam to push for a marriage to Georgiana) with “I will do no such thing” (she refuses to persuade Georgiana)

The hour plots the growing estrangement of Darcy (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin), which leads to the break-up of Georgiana’s (Eleanor Tomlinson) promised possible engagement to Alveston (James Norton). The continuing mystery emphasized over and over as what importantly needs to be explained is why Captain Denny (Tom Canton) suddenly jumped out of the carriage and rushed into the dark woods; this mystery is in Part 2 contextualized by Colonel Fitzwilliam’s unexplained visit to Mrs Younge (Mariah Gale) in a tavern where he gave her £30 that turned up in the lining of Wickham’s hat. That more than one person asserts this can have nothing to do with the night’s events makes it all the more probable that Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward) was providing Wickham (Matthew Goode) with some sort of trigger, but for whom and what?

The guarded harsh Fitzwilliam

Fitzwilliam is the first to visit Wickham in jail (early in the hour) and their dialogue shows that Wickham could blackmail Fitzwilliam for some amoral behavior both know about. What is Fitzwilliam’s relationship to Wickham? If Mrs Younge was Fitzwilliam’s mistress, who is Mrs Younge (now we see she was the woman found in the wood thought to be Mrs Riley’s ghost) to Wickham? (Part 3 reveals she’s Wickham’s sister.) Elizabeth wants Darcy to investigate and interrogate his cousin closely, and Darcy refuses at the same time as he insists Elizabeth should help him forward the marriage of Georgiana to Fitzwilliam.

Will peering out the window: POV Elizabeth’s

We get some clues. The new Bidwell baby in the cottage, called little George by Louisa (Nichola Burley), turns out to be Louisa’s (Elizabeth sees her breast-feeding the baby), and the climax of Part 2 is Louisa identifying the father who called himself Freddie Delancy (first initials the same as Fitzwilliam Darcy) as Wickham just as he is declared sufficiently suspicious by a jury to be tried for the murder of Denny. The cottage is in the depths of the woods where the carriage stopped and Elizabeth also notices that Louisa’s brother, Will (Lewis Namier), is kept from her by Mrs Bidwell, his mother (Jennifer Hennessey), presented as sicker and unable to see anyone when he is rather behaving furtively and elusively. James’s explanation comes only at the novel’s huddled close, the full Bidwell story suddenly dumped on us in a wooden lengthy explanation at novel’s end.

This material (clues, the Fitzwilliam-Mrs Younge-Wickham-Bidwell connection) is the central objective action of Part 2 of the mini-series. As in recent and older mysteries, our magistrate detective, Sir Selwyn Hardcastle (Trevor Eve) gathers clues he fails to understand but which we are expected to remember or make sense of. Often such bumbling is treated comically; here Sir Selwyn’s pre-conceived idea that Wickham was the murderer is treated as a menacing threat to the Wickhams and Darcys. (The Prologue and bits in the central part of James’s novel is rather a weak romance sequel retelling Pride and Prejudice in a sort of ironic narrative way: there is little dramatization of this original material, and sometimes Austen’s P&P is quoted verbatim.) James has made the central theme of her story (though not its structuring) how Darcy’s original intense pride in place and family is mortified and reasserting itself when threatened by the re-appearance of Wickham, scandalous murder of Denny, and the spiteful mortifying vanity-ridden absurd stories and behavior of Lydia (Jena Coleman). Howtidi makes James’s thematic suggestion the central meaningful emotional trajectory that fills out and gives the powerful gravitas to Part 2 of her screenplay and the movie made from it.




Near the opening of Part 2 Darcy speaks to the Pemberley household declaring brusquely that the Lady Anne Ball is cancelled. He appears dismissive of the disappointed servants (hard-work was done in the preparations) and walks away (reminding us of the Darcy first seen in the assembly rooms in Austen’s P&P), leaving Elizabeth to soothe wounded feelings and assert James’s conscious moral: the upper class family at Pemberley and the servants are all one in their devotion and work, sustaining one another, grateful and acting responsibly for one another; this is the purpose and meaning of “high” civilized life in England at the time. The stages of Darcy and Elizabeth’s alienation are in the first half of this part dramatized as stages in Darcy’s acceptance of Fitzwilliam’s proposal for Georgiana, as he first tells Elizabeth privately about Fitzwilliam’s desire for Georgiana; he supports Fitzwilliam’s idea Georgiana should be sent away to Lady Catherine de Bourgh rather than be “further” besmirched (only to reverse himself on Georgiana’s vocal protests over Fitzwilliam’s dismissal of her sense of where she belongs, who she is), then in front of Fitzwilliam demands Elizabeth’s acquiescence. Across the hour a second female-female relationship (the first is Elizabeth’s with Georgiana) develops when Jane now Bingley (Alexandra Moen) arrives early in the hour, comforts Elizabeth, follows her to the temple in the grounds where Elizabeth experiences a nadir of despair which is placed at the center of the BBC Part 2:

Jane and Elizabeth

After Elizabeth’s nadir we have a flashback remembering again how she fell for Wickham and Darcy’s strained proposal; Jane takes Lydia and Mrs Bennet back to her home, we seeing how stupid Lydia is: she attributes Denny and Wickham’s argument to Denny’s attraction to her when he is a man of integrity. We hear Lydia’s vicious tongue regaling Elizabeth’s maid with tales of how Elizabeth preferred Wickham and married Darcy for his money so as to be overheard by Darcy. Lydia’s presence thus further exacerbates and corrodes the emotional situation in the film (I want to emphasize none of this is in the book since James will not let anything disturb the cycle of life in the great house which seems to be the point of her book).

The second half of Part 2 of the film show Georgiana’s rejecting Alveston after having accepted him, their desolation, her crashing to the floor.


after which she becomes hysterical in front of Elizabeth, insisting that her sacrifice is the family way of holding on to Pemberley (Fitzwilliam has more money and rank than Alveston),

Women’s connections to one another are central to this mini-series in the three part format: Elizabeth’s reliance on the conventionally punitive severe Mrs Reynolds (Joanna Scanlon) does not stop Elizabeth from coming to her own judgement when she questions Louisa and discovers that the father is one “Freddie Delancy” and sets about finding out who this absconded man is.

Elizabeth questioning Louisa with Mrs Reynolds overlooking

Though Elizabeth cannot make a friend of Louisa (her whole consciousness of what’s allowed her is determined by her sense of her lower status) nor of Mrs Bidwell (who has too much to hide — she knows who attacked Denny), Elizabeth sees that their experience is somehow important to what happened that night — and she alone insists the woman in the wood (Mrs Younge) was not only real, but important. Mrs Bennet (Rebecca Front) is not simply a foolish clown, her sheer presence and mindless grating nagging about materialistic things helps account for Elizabeth’s dismissal of these things (reinforced by the brief appearance of Penelope Keith as Lady Catherine de Bourgh at the opening of Part 3). Mrs Bennet does not appear in James’s book. James would not risk it as an implicit embodied critique of the order James is determined to uphold (like Fellowes in Downton Abbey). Mrs Bennet is also an ironic caricature; there is no Mr Collins in James’s book either (nor is this ironic caricature in Towhidi’s film)

Male bonding of a sort goes on. Wickham had a loss in Denny’s scorn of him; Wickham’s memory of a scene with an angry, suspicious Denny is replayed over and over in the film (and will make some suspect Wickham murdered Denny to shut him up). Denny was his “only friend,” and now he sees that Colonel Fitzwilliam is no one to turn to (he deserts the soldier he supposedly values), he has only Darcy. There are two scenes in the prison between Darcy and Wickham; in both Darcy remembers Wickham’s scoundrel demand for £10,000 before he will agree to marry the foolishly disdainful (of Darcy) Lydia; in the second, after Lydia has visited Wickham, Wickham (somehow ironically) shows that the payment he got was not enough really to compensate for his having to spend his life with such a woman. Wickham suggests for a moment he would have been a better man had he married Louisa Bidwell; while how far that goes is doubtful because Wickham so values his creature comforts and these take money. Since Wickham was trying to get Denny to buy the baby from her (and in the book, to give James credit, Mrs Bidwell and Louisa are terrified the baby will be taken from them by Mrs Younge aided by Colonel Fitzwilliam or Denny); we are supposed to see Wickham would have not married Louisa. With Lydia he has to endure a fool who reinforces his own worst impulses. What Lydia has given him is Darcy; no small thing: Darcy’s money, prestige, and dubious faith in Wickham’s story that he did not murder Denny is all Wickham has to fall back on (as, again, Fitzwilliam is no one to depend upon).


Darcy’s final real decency and pride in family is presumably what makes Darcy hire Alveston as a lawyer when Alveston (Darcy sees) generously offers his services after Georgiana’s rejection of him, which Alveston knows is at the behest of Darcy.

Alveston offering himself — a truly noble gesture

Darcy (1)
Darcy realizing Alveston’s a good man

All these skeins of relationships are carefully threaded through the original part 2 in just the order I’ve told it and with the emphasis I’ve suggested and they are not in the book presented in this way.


I was most moved by Anna Maxwell Martin, as the quietly perceptive strong heroine who holds to her humane values; by Eleanor Tomlinson’s performance as the vulnerable young woman who could have married a domineering man dismissive of her emotions; by James Fleet as Mr Bennet in the library unwilling to show himself after he inadvertently overheard one of Darcy and Elizabeth’s heated clashes. I felt the direction Darcy’s character was taken by Rhys under the direction of Perceval with Towhidi’s script was consonant with Austen’s adumbration of him as an arrogant but decent and intelligent gentleman learning to see the world less narrowly from pride.

One of Elizabeth’s flashbacks: here she remembers Darcy’s insulting proposal

Tom Ward gives a strong believable performance as an aristocratic military type yet not to be trusted because of his values. No actor or character was weak.

I just wish the immediate material, James’s intermediary novel between this film and Austen’s Pride and Prejudice had not been this inferior formulaic genre. Howtidi managed to rearrange, vivify select elements, and shape the two sets of matter, James and Austen’s — for Howtidi has Austen in mind in the principal characters found in Austen’s book — into a characteristically woman’s film, cyclical, woman-centered, intimately subjective in many of the scenes. But she does not transcend the intransigent material, as the plot-design she comes up with drives the story to a trial and climactic ending whose recursiveness is only felt in the comic departure of the Wickhams (they could and probably will return broke).

The best moments in the mini-series are some of the quiet ones, e.g., Elizabeth reading Gulliver’s Travels to the young Darcy; her standing on the terrace looking out; her washing her face for some emotional relief, cleansing herself of all this as it were:


One thing to keep in mind is most of the scenes we see in the mini-series are actually not found in the book.

Next week: Part 3, and coda: A Story of recognition


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