Posts Tagged ‘P.D. James’

A more recent photo of her contemplative

At seventy-seven it is time to be in earnest — Samuel Johnson

Dear friends and readers,

I’ve been engaged this week in reading a P.D. James’s Death comes to Pemberley, watching the film adaptation closely, and studying Juliette Towhidi’s script once again, and decided to revise a blog I wrote for my Under the Sign of Sylvia II as a record of my reading, into a blog on what James has to tell us about her life, its connection to her mystery-detective stories, and the film adaptations of her work she has overseen over the years.

P.D. James’s A Time to be in Earnest, is a diary-as-autobiography, whose apparently upbeat terrain is belied by its constant theme of death, James is ever gripped by death, Death comes is her phrase again and again. She lived through World War II under the bombs, her husband became mentally ill from his experience in the military (as is not uncommon), and these experiences and her memories of a hard childhood, repeatedly end for her in sentiments whose gravity is underlined by her tendency to utter earnest consolation:

There is no point in regretting any part of the past. The past can’t now be altered, the future has yet to be lived, and consciously to experience every moment of the present is the only way to gain at least the illusion of immortality [though why anyone would want immortality is beyond me just now].

Yet she writes a success story, tells of all the famous people she meets, in one level produces a Horatio Alger story of deprived, poor and unlucky young woman makes good despite horrendous events occurring all around her, like WW2 and giving birth under the raining bombs. Whenever she can, though, she tells of consolation, compensation and occasionally joy: for example, she tells of one of her earliest moments of ‘intense happiness’ when she learned to read.

A butterfly becomes ‘one of those rare moments in which a fugitive beauty, briefly contemplated ,is experienced with a peculiar intensity, the sense of being a privileged spectator of a life, which however, brief is part of a mysterious whole.

Tellingly to me there is nothing like this in the detective fiction by her I’ve read thus far (4 novels, one non-fiction book on an early 19th century murder and police procedural at the time as it were). Detective fiction she seems (only seems) to approach in a business-like fashion though as a stylist she was a poet too:

“For me, setting, character, narrative are always interdependent” she says. “All fiction is artificial, a careful rearrangment by selection of the writer’s internal life in a form desgined to make it accessible and attractive to a reader.”

There is a section where she begins to discuss how mystery and crime fiction emerged from Sherlock Holmes stories, arguing that they are improbable and not scientific at all, nor the 1930s school of women writers; nowadays writers try more. She goes over the oddity that the Sayers school is still liked — she sees them as comfort books, a refuge — rather like Austen. I had found I didn’t like her detective fiction after all — though admitting to its strengths (deft description, able to hold you in the characters sufficiently that I at least wanted to know who did it), but I like this autobiography because it differs so strongly from her detective fiction. She is one of those who presents the horrors of deaths that these stories put before us, and then sweeps all under a rug of re-assertion of order. Everything tidied up at the end even if the murderer is not punished, so then all is well. She suggests that women especially find the conventions and the form of mysteries [focused ‘on murder’, which evokes ‘strong emotions’]) both satisfying and supportive.” She values limited realism above all. Myself I can’t respond to crime fiction this way.

It’s not uncommon with me to prefer someone’s life-writing to their fiction. James who is very much aware of her conservative political stance. I can see why her fiction on the surface seems more modern than say Sayers, is not quintessentially country house fiction: in fact she grew up lower middle class in England. I admire her control; in this book she is moving from the vivid present of 2000 and making comments as she remembers different aspects of her past while the straight narrative moves chronologically. The aspects chosen are for emotional connections and effect. See my review of her Death Comes to Pemberley.

Nonetheless, there is a hard-core sense of truthfulness and integrity that comes across that I am drawn to.

I woke at six with a feeling of vague unease, as if my mind were struggling free from the last clinging threads of a bad dream. It was another hot night and I had slept fitfully. Perhaps there had been a bad dream, but I had no conscious memory of it (p. 36)


It is woman’s memoir, écriture-femme as once would have been said. It is a diary across a year, the entries are organized according to the month she sat down and write each entry, with that entry labelled the day she’s writing. That gives it a cyclical structure as she often does the same thing over and over, or she sees family and experiences anniversaries, goes to all sorts of events to push her books.

Within this there is a chronological story which is (as I say) a more or less a success story. If you read with care, there are stages where she achieves this or that depsite great hardship (typical for men, Horatio Alger stuff) but again these are accompanied by powerful vignettes countering the feel of that: she gives birth to a baby while the bombs are dropping down on the hospital and we get this terrifying scene of how it feels to be under the bombs, the civilians. And the success story is accompanied by sharp critiques or vignettes of social life connecting them to day — a strong detailed frank description of her 5 years as governor at the BBC, She critiques what the institution has become; if it’s not there for excellence, it has lost its mission. Much of her inspiration for this or that story in her Dalgliesh series seems to have come from experiences on her different jobs — which included working for the military and health care. So then just plopped in are little critical essays on books she has read.

She writes of diaries:

The book, carefully hidden, is both friend and and confidant, one from whom neither criticism nor treachery need be feared. The daily words comfort, justify, absolve. Politicians are great keepers of diaries, apparently dictating them daily for eventual use in the inevitable autobiography, laying down ammunition as they might lay down port. But politician’s diaries are invariably dull [The admiral did not find them so – he loved to read politician and earlier courtier-intrigue types, from Crossman back to Greville.] Perhaps some compulsive diaries write to validate this experience. Life for them is experienced with more intensity when recollected in tranquillity than it is at the living moment [1]

Why James writes this diary. She sees autobiography sophisticatedly: it is part fictionalizing, part shoring up, part compensation, wish-fulfillment, inventing a life that was not quite the one you had:

And the past is not static. It can be relived only in memory, and memory is a device for forgetting as well as remembering. It, too, is not immutable. It rediscovers, reinvents, reorganizes. Like a passage of prose it can be revised and repunctuated. To that extent, every autobiography is a work of fiction and every work of fiction an autobiography. So tomorrow, on 3rd August, I shall write the first entry in a record which I propose to keep for one year …

She would never call herself a feminist but in her book as she moves back to the chronologically told past, she is slowly creating a career for herself in life and reliving it through this book — even before her husband became permanently mentally ill. The cyclical nature of women’s life-writing comes by how she weaves a forward-thrust narrative with diaries entries of what happened on the days she’s writing the chronology parts and these other events give her an opportunity to muse on her art, and the arts and topics of those whose speeches she hears or conversation she participates in. She was part of a generation which were rewarded by being sent to fine schools for little money — she does not appear to understand how lucky she was nor that social forces today (which she has a way of deploring) would have deprived her of the education that enabled her to become a writer. I can identify the way I have done with other lower middle class English writers on their childhood.

Thus I enter into the world of this book despite so much against it from her skewed politics to her name-dropping. Beyond the utterances at the close of her stories, every once in a while she launches into talking about writing, books in a highly intelligent insightful way and the occasional deeply melancholy sentiments pulled up by wry scepticism show me where the power of her mystery novels comes from. What grates about James’s conservatism are her hobby-horses and name-dropping, the narrow minded distortions, especially about girls in schools, what is happening in education, that she keeps repeating. On name-dropping: a couple of names is fine, but when she lists them and each time she goes somewhere, who she sat next to — I suppose there are worse faults … In a way some of her favorite bete noirs are revealing of her; in this case, we should remember how she, as intelligent as she was, passing all the elite tests she did, still did not get to go to the best schools because her family did have to pay more for her to go than she could afford. Some of this fuels her books and gives them their power.

What she is remarkably honest and candid about in concise ways are her life and feelings which went into her mysteries. For example her fascination with death and how a murder tries everyone around it and brings out deep aspects of the people left as well as murdered and murderer, the presence of death itself. Her husband is a continual quiet memory throughout the book, his illness, his death. She acknowledges how authors do use real people as partial or even whole sources for their characters — in her case partial. How she uses herself as other authors use themselves. It’s the tone of this one — she does say she was much influenced by Jane Austen – and Anthony Trollope. Like him she has the gift of easy readability — one of the reasons for her commercial success

James with her husband Connor, and their baby Jane (1942)

Towards the end of the book, James is invited to talk at Chawton. She includes a copy of her talk. Her section on Austen shows all her strengths and hobbyhorses too. Basing herself on the letters (and novels and common sense to), she’s simply truthful, candid: she suggests Austen did not marry because she saw endless pregnancies (and deaths in her near family from this); she talks of Austen’s repulsion at these bodies and quotes apt lines. Austen was seriously tempted to marry to be mistress of Manydown; why not? Marriage was a career option and they needed the money, but she declined the next morning. So traumatic for her.

Still Austen is not exactly grieving over Elizabeth, Edward’s wife’s death and she goes further than say he had that cottage well before Elizabeth died: he could have set them up much better. I was reminded of my feeling early in the letters that Edward’s attitude towards money and lack of generosity resembles John Dashwood.

James doesn’t idealize Cassandra Austen; she says it’s understandable given the mores, but Cassandra destroyed a precious large legacy. Beyond that she shows herself to be of the romantic erotic camp; she can’t enter into sympathy with someone who simply became a spinster; the feel is of see she’s weak or see how forbidding she was.

She’s read D. W. Harding and would call part of the feeling in the novels and letters “controlled resentment: ” the brothers are given careers, cared about individually; Jane’s piano is sold and if she made some sums from her novels, her life carried on controlled by the brothers and family. She does not want to impose a 20th century sensibility and (part of her hobbyhorses again) Austen was “hardly deprived by domesticity or a university education.” So much for college.

James says she first read P&P at 8 or 9. That is young. It was to her like Little Women — well I did read Little Women at age 10. She understands now she missed a lot but she loved Pride and Prejudice even from a young adolescent’s perspective.

She’s also frank about the origins of the society, how it grew, the rich American responsible for rescuing Chawton — which she does not idealize (literature of the country house is in danger of this): a 17th century house, it was and is at the time still dark. She attributes the growth of the society to the 1995 movie.


Most interesting are her discussions of detective and mystery and crime fiction as such and the film adaptations of her work.

Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth when first she is told what has happened in the woodland around Pemberley: taking it in

She does not herself discuss her Death Comes to Pemberley but it fits in with all her criteria and stances. What Juliette Howtidi did in the movie was to pull the vein of disquiet, of death’s primal effect on everyone — as well as re-arrange the plot-design to be more effective and herself go back to Austen. Howtidi’s Death of Pemberley makes much of intense sibling relationships … and I think attempts to reconcile the early Darcy of Austen’s P&P with the later one by insisting on the deeper moral man and his aristocratic code of reticence and yes status. Which in this movie being made in a supposed egalitarian era he learns to put away.

In Towhidi’s Death comes to Pemberley, as in Maggie Wadey’s Mansfield Park, it is the man who is ritually self-humiliated and apologizes and learns from the woman — Darcy from Elizabeth (this is not in James’s novel at all). Towhidi’s Elizabeth is herself placed in the abject position by her own fears and how others treat in the mid portion of the movie, but that makes it deeper and more real. James is too reverential and her version of Death Comes to Pemberley neither makes of Elizabeth an active sleuth (like Jane Tennison) nor is she connected directly with the crime or anything about it directly. So James’s book is dull (more on the book itself in my next blog).

James photographed with Roy Marsden as Adam Dalgliesh, and John Rosenberg (producer) and Herbie Wise (director) of the first Anglia series, Death of an Expert Witness (1983).

The crime novelist does not reject romantic fiction or science fiction in favour of murder through conscious choice. He or she needs to deal with the atavistic fear of death, to exorcize the terror of violence and to restore at least fictional peace and tranquillity after the disruptive terror of murder … John LeCarre is as much fascinated by personal treachery and betrayal as he is by the shoddy international bureaucracy of spying and the dangers and excitement of the chase. Espionage is his internal as well as external world.

The book turns very interesting when she reaches the filming of her An Unsuitable Job for a Woman for filming. It has a woman detective heroine, Cordelia Grey is central and is particularly insightful. She made the mistake (as she sees it) of allowing the successful producers to take her character, Cordelia and write another story of their own. This by the way is what Winston Graham refused to allow and what really brought the Poldark mini-series to a halt. He had originally only 4 completed by the early 1970s (used for 1975-76 first mini-series); then he had begun the 5th (with a 20 year gap to get over) and then was furiously writing the 7th just in time for the filming of the second series (1977-87). The producers asked if they could carry on with the characters and milieu themselves, promising utter faithfulness to conceptions &c. He knew they couldn’t; they weren’t him.

James had to learn this. When she was told her heroine’s story including pregnancy outside marriage, she was appalled, worse yet was the way it was done. Without typing out details suffice to say I believe the filmmakers when they rejected her alternative and said there was not much difference in theirs that mattered – to them. The details are important for those who want to see how really conservative socially James is when it comes to sexuality. She then had a helluva time making sure her name was not used, and another title for the series was invented. She writes as a warning. Had to get a very good lawyer to work at this

To add another kind of objection James had to the second mini-series or episode from her character Cordelia Grey. For the pregnancy, although James would never have done it herself, part of her objection was the huge addition of emotionalism such a development would accrue round the central detective figure. She suggests that while the detective figure is a character and needs to have real interest, they should also be kept apart, distanced, cool — Dalgliesh is that and, for example, Helen Mirren’s character in Prime Suspect. It’s not just an old-fashioned attitude towards sex outside marriage though it is that too.

She objected perhaps more fiercely to the story of the pregnancy. This is her woman’s point of view. She protests against how Cordelia is imagined as just letting herself get pregnant “by an old boyfriend” who casually disappears and now “brave little woman” she must bring up the child herself. James wanted to change it so that Cordelia meets someone who is fatally ill with whom she had a deep relationship, and out of real feeling, compassion for past, she has an affair with him. James talks about the irreponsiblity of the first story, but as is common in this book myself I think her moralizations do not voice what are her real objections or thoughts. Both stories have a woman getting pregnant without caring for the future of the child they might have, but the second shows much more bonding between the pair, real feeling (paradoxically – but then she didn’t want the pregnancy in the first place). The former is a male story: the idea of an encounter without ties and get away — one sees this everywhere on the Net for example in thesematch.com groups. And then attaches it to idealizing the single mother as that’s thought popular. James really does write as a woman from a woman’s perspective and is not attracted by the latest fashionable stereotype.

The other one is about detective fiction that’s serious even if it’s entertainment and in the end a (false James admits) imposition of order and rationality and justice on the world (which allows the reader to escape says James). She talks of the poorness of the script: Cordelia never sees the body; the body murder scene must be detailed centrally, crucial to all detective crime stories is this key scene and it’s best that the detective examine it. That makes the story serious. it’s best that the detective examine the corpse. That makes the story serious. In Death Comes to Pemberley the return to the crime scene in the film is obsessive; in the book Sir Selwyn Hardcastle, the magistrate watches Dr McFee thoroughly examine how death occurred and listens to all he says and we really get a sense of the mood the man must’ve had just as he died, of the body as containing this previous person frozen.

James suggests therefore that in the film version of An Unsuitable Job their not bothering to have Cordelia even there shows just how superficial was their interest in the genre and book. All they were interested in doing was making a pop program which took least effort of thought. The answer then is most of what is dramatized in the character of Sir Selwyn Hardcastle is fantasy, a kind of re-insertion into an 18th century sequel novel of what are conventions for modern detective-crime novels’ examination of the body. In Prime Suspect there is always a thorough observation of the corpse and procedures about it. In Breaking Bad I see the same thing done (examination) to anyone who dies or is killed.

Although this is not true of James (as she was of an age when people do learn to drive with more ease when cars were rare and public transportation very good in the UK), her continuing not to drive in later life is a sign of un-ease with the tempo and a number of other things characteristic of modern life and made intense on the road. She is a highly intelligent woman and she does bring out these characteristics as she worries herself and goes about to find ways to get places and get herself back. Occasionally she is stranded and traveling takes much longer. She is active socially, but even more she is continually out there supporting her books, publicizing herself, negotiating deals for films and talks and going to places where important known writers are and getting prizes with them . She does tell us far more about all these trips more than the times home — which must be long as every once in while voila a new book comes from her.

I find her to be someone whose understanding of her own fiction is not fully conscious; when she talks of “serious literature” most of the time she gets irritated by what the author wanted to do. I can tell when she misreads because a favorite is Trollope and she often objects precisely to the very point the author may be making with his or her character, denying its reality and then bad-mouthing the character for. She writes herself:

There is much that I remember but which is painful to dwell upon. I see no need to write about these things. They are over and must be accepted … And there are other matters over which memory has exercised its efl-defensive censorship. Like dangerous and unpredictable beasts they lie curled in the pit of the subconscious


James and Trollope

Johnny Eames and a beloved Aunt Julia (Small House at Allington, itself a rewrite in part of Sense and Sensibility, illustration by John Everett Millais, whom Trollope declares he loved dearly)

James mentions Trollope numerous times and says she often takes one or more Barsetshire novels with her when she travels. Since appears to go out a good deal! I can see how her fiction relates to a vision of his which we find in Downton Abbey (pro-hierarchy, depictions of the world as so many upstairs and downstairs &c), but curiously each time she descends to details she appears to complain. Which makes me suspect that her vision of him which we find in Downton Abbey is actually inaccurate and that her reasons for loving him are not faced up to.

Three passages stuck out. She complains almost bitterly about Lily Dale (from The Small House at Allington). She says she “came” to Trolllope in her 30s and since then he has provided “enormous pleasure.” Then that Lily Dale is a “monster,” she’s glad Crosbie escaped Lily (even if he is “a cad”), pities “poor Mrs Dale” destined to spend her “old age” with the “resolutely single and masochistic Lily Dale.” Just thinking about these words gives me renewed energy: I know Trollope seems to inveigh against Lily in his Autobiography but what he is inveighing against is the readership which sees her choice sentimentally, then he calls her a “prig.” Inside the fiction, the cases are made nuanced and each time she is either badly hurt for real or she sees that marriage would be a bad idea (with Crosbie seeing forever how much more she wanted him), and at the close of the book we are told she is at peace — has a comfortable sum of money and no longer bothered by so many things (pp. 37-38). PD James consciously loathes Lily Dale because she sees her as self-indulgent and has no inclination for retreat herself. And James had a hard younger life — the parents impoverished, the father fighting hard for a gov’t job at last.

But I suggest that she also loved the kind of character Lily Dale represents — of which there are so many in Trollope, from Mr Harding to Lady Mason.

By the time she finished with The Duke’s Children one wonders why anyone reads it, much less wants to produce an unabridged edition. “Only Lady Mabel Grex” “engages her sympathy”, Lady Mary is “obstinate charmless,” the heiress Isabel “irritating” (“it’s obvious [Trollope] was in love with his creation”), then the young men, Lord Silverbridge and brother are “amiable nonentities,” hopeless cyphers, and she says Trollope gives as wives to his men women “who are content to treat them as lord and masters.” She even has to say the Duke who she has liked so much now loses her “sympathy” when he treats Mrs Finn with “ungentlemanly callousness and injustice,” (p. 222-23). ). She doesn’t mention (seem aware) of how Madame Max is re-engineered from an independent European divorcee who married for money the first time and when she made a mistake the second pays him to stay away, to become a chaste widow for Phineas Finn can marry her.

In this case one sees again she has not entered into the value scheme of the novel. It’s true that Lady Mabel is meant as a tragic figure, but she is uninterested in the father-son conflicts, how Lady Mary is standing in for Lady Glen and doing what Lady Glen could not when young (stay firm for the man she wants and against the life she doesn’t), and she ignores the central absent-present figure of Lady Glen as well as the complex semi-corrupt figure of Frank Tregear.

She does praise The Way We Live Now in one of her frequent diatribes against some aspects of modernity: here it’s that literary novels today do not write about large social issues, do not examine “the dilemmas and concerns of our age” the way Dickens did. Where is there a brilliant portrait of a financier like Melmotte? She also likens Trollope’s TWWLN to Tolstoy’s War and peace.” (Tolstoy seems ever a name to conjure with.)

She has not read much of the Booker prize books then and is (as is seen in the rest of her book) out of sympathy with their politics. She feels modern soap operas on British TV are more in sync with popular readerships. Maybe. Hard to say since people are so distinct and large groups really don’t exist the way it’s presented in mass media. she would absolve herself as mystery stories (according to her) are entertainments, meant to reassure (yes that inexplicable idea recurs again and again all the while she will tell of some horrible death in this or that book).

Trollope would not have been surprised, he knew a lot of his readership did miss the point he tried to make in many of his books. Yet she read on and is candid and truthful about her responses so produces a revealing example of typical readers.

It may be that the majority of people in the UK are coming to feel no one represents their interests and a book about politicians or politics turns them off, but politics is just everywhere — all stories are utterly shaped by perspectives ultimately political.

Helen Mirren as Jane Tennison in the final season of Prime Suspect

P.D. James fails to recognize as valid another political vision is part of it too; she speaks on the same platform as Salmon Rushdie for example: he’s a political writer, but his vision is global. He and others see the larger view of how militarism and colonialist exploitation around the world are driving domestic politics in the UK and elsewhere. To pick a popular mystery series, Prime Suspect was continually political, exposing all sorts of wrongs in bureaucracies of powerful agencies especially — and it was popular. True that James identifies with the detached Dalgliesh — and (I am told) perhaps meant him to marry Cordelia eventually. She was herself a woman living on herself — later in life with a beloved cat, Polly-Hodge:


I will probably move on to read her mystery which is said to rehearse the Jane Austen P&P story from afar (The Murder Room), (I’ve now read three, her first, Cover her Face, A Taste of Death and Death Comes to Pemberley, and her Maul and Pear Tree and Talking about Fiction), but her autobiography is to me very interesting, full of life and (like the mysteries) her prose is so readable. She has wonderful sheerly descriptive gifts. I have bought her Maul and Pear Tree and look forward to her take on a specific murder story of the long 18th century era.


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Darcy (Matthew Rhys) apologizing to Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), freeing her from an engagement to Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward) (click on each image to make larger)

Climax (2)
Darcy, having apologized to Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin), admit he’s wronged her

Climax (1)
The core family reconfiguring itself

after which Darcy and Elizabeth make love for the first time in a while, wake and decide they must tell Lydia (Jenna Coleman) about Wickham’s (Matthew Goode) affair with Louisa Bidwell (Nichola Burley)

Dear friends and readers,

As the second part of Death Comes to Pemberley has its pivotal climax (it’s literally half-way through) in Elizabeth’s climb to the temple and Elizabeth’s finding in Jane (Alexandra Moen) a resource for strength because Jane believes Darcy continues to love and respect Elizabeth, so the third and final part has as its pivotal climax (it’s literally half-way through) Darcy’s resolution to give up the idea of a marriage of Georgiana to Colonel Fitzwilliam, his apology to Georgiana and Elizabeth, and his resolution not to look upon everyone but close blood family suspiciously, but to be genuinely generous-spirited to all around him. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice the central recognition is Elizabeth’s of herself, in Towhidi’s movie script, it’s Darcy’s of himself. The only other heritage Austen film (characters in 18th century costume) where the hero instead of the heroine apologizes, is the much-maligned 2007 Mansfield Park (scripted by Maggie Wadey). Most movies on whatever subject humiliate the woman as the maturation event. I was very moved by this scene because it was carefully built up to.

I follow with another outline of the weaving; while I indicate most of the scenes generally I do miss out some sequences of images in the form of brief flashbacks within flashbacks or sudden moments of brooding between characters; these are many and as is common today, brief and swift, but the outward movement holds them within itself. For example, Darcy brooding in the dawn after we have seen shots of a midnight and early dawn sky over the woods:


We open with Wickham in prison, brooding, the camera on his face as he writes an autobiography in the spirit of self-release; we move into his face for a flashback sequence of his remembering his following Louisa into an area of Pemberley wood where they make love.


The film moves away from his mind and the image becomes Louisa trying to jump off a bridge with her baby, to kill them both, and collapses on the bridge unable to jump.


As is common in this and many contemporary movies, an overvoice from the coming scene is heard, Elizabeth’s and we are listening to Sir Selwyn Hardcastle (Trevor Eve) propose to her and Darcy that Louisa Bidwell’s story is centrally connected to the murder of Denny, to Darcy’s denial, Hardcastle’s scepticism (he has seen from Louisa’s behavior that Freddie Delancy is Wickham), and then we are with Darcy in Wickham’s prison cell where Wickham asserts he didn’t murder Denny, and Darcy pretends to believe him. Wickham asks Darcy to care for his son, says he does care (in a limited way) for Louisa, and, as if by association, we are staring at Mrs Reynolds (Joanna Scanlon) worrying over Louisa and the children of such misalliances (she seems to care little for the woman in front of her, Louisa, the mother, only the imagined baby) and then turn to Louisa who Mrs Reynolds and Elizabeth are questioning. They elicit from her her memories of the day she took her baby to a ruined cloister where she met with Denny (Tom Canton), Mrs Young (Mariah Gale) and saw Fitzwilliam, and, where it not for the hesitation of the reluctant Denny, Louisa would have had her baby taken by Mrs Younge.



An intensity of interactive, juxtaposed psychological presences, fills the first ten or so minutes of this hour, and then the camera moves out to film at a greater distance the social scene and landscapes of Louisa and baby hiding behind a tree, and back again inward and suddenly we are in the dark Bidwell cottage with Elizabeth questioning Louisa and Mrs Bidwell (Jennifer Hennessey) there, warily, on guard, all of them interrupted by the sick and dying Will (Lewis Ranier) who comes out for a moment, elusive, as we shall learn the key figure in what happened. There is a distinct fade out, switch and Elizabeth is telling Mrs Reynolds to find a home for Louisa’s baby (and we hear if Janeites delightedly of Mrs Reynold’s widowed sister who runs a boarding school, in Highbury, Mrs Goddard).

None of this is rational; like many melodramatic films today it follows an associative psychological trajectory to tell a story through its past and present simultaneously. The point is to involve us on a deeply emotional level, work up suspense.

There is a relaxation as we find ourselves watching Elizabeth walking and talking with Darcy on the Pemberley grounds: Elizabeth is telling him all she has learned, but they get into a quarrel as soon as she brings up Fitzwilliam’s activity in the story and he refuses to believe her, thinking family honor and safety require that Georgiana marry Fitzwilliam.


The parallel next sequence is of Georgiana and Fitzwilliam walking along the great hall, his proposal of marriage, and her obvious nervous distaste while she accedes that she will marry him.

Tomlinson as Georgiana deeply unhappy as she says yes to Fitzwilliam

A transition of Darcy coming upon Sir Selwyn in the woods examining evidence in the trees, stones, before the trial scenes open.


I won’t go over these in detail as they provide the central mood (they culminate) and are the outward manifestation of what we have seen the inner life of. As Towhidi substituted Mr and Mrs Bennet in the film for Jane and Bingley in the novel, thus gaining poignant and ironic comedy, so she invents a condescending comic scene which exposes the innkeeper’s wife’s nosiness and absurdities: she overheard Denny and Wickham’s quarrel which we now know was about betraying Louisa.

Towhidi then dramatizes what is a letter in the novel from Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Penelope Keith) perhaps to make more stinging the snobbish useless dragon lady and her careless attitudes towards the death of a lower order person (in the novel she did grieve over the death of her daughter, Anne de Bourgh); the purpose of the scene is to show Elizabeth’s invulnerability to this woman even now — with Darcy turning against her she feels.

Keith as Lady Catherine explaining to Elizabeth how she tells sick people to get better or hurry up and die … (this reminds me of James’s long-sick husband and how she must’ve cared for him)

In court all is going badly for the proud Wickham and his helpless attorney, Alveston (James Norton). We have two scenes between Darcy and Mrs Younge prefaced by his memory of her extorting money from him to find Wickham years ago to force Wickham to marry Lydia: Mrs Younge defends herself ably, she behaves ruthlessly because she has nothing and the only person she has known love from and for is Wickham, her brother. What interests me is what this is in service of: on the coach ride home the first day, Darcy finally confronts and demands an explanation from Fitzwilliam and when he sees Fitzwilliam regards Georgiana as nearly spoilt goods, is unrepentant about his deceit, manipulation of Mrs Younge, breaks with him, and then we get the central scene of Darcy’s apology, change of heart, self-recognition and new resolution.

Darcy suddenly seeing Fitzwilliam as they ride home

What is important is Darcy has his change of heart before the trial reaches its climax. Despite Hardcastle not telling all he knows (about Louisa — much to the prosecuting attorney’s disappointment), Wickham is declared guilty and told he will hang the morning after the next day. Upon the verdict, Mrs Younge rushes out, throws herself under a carriage, and dies. (Not quite believably done; the carriage is treated as if it were an automobile, and Mrs Younge does not look that hurt.) Darcy writes a letter telling the verdict to Elizabeth (we have him communicating by voice-over in a beautiful hall with gorgeous window and quill pen). This last phase has Elizabeth trying to tell Lydia that Wickham had an affair with Louisa, and Lydia, movingly for once, refusing to know, telling her sister she lives on different terms with Wickham than Elizabeth with Darcy; they pretend not to have around them the evil they do is the point. This scene between Elizabeth and Lydia is Lydia’s best moment in the movie:

Lydiasbestmoment (2)

Lydiasbestmoment (1)

A matching shows Lydia in prison with Wickham and although he has about told Darcy that he regards her as an irritating foolish nuisance (a parallel with her mother as Mr Bennet sees Mrs Bennet), he is suddenly kind, regretful, expresses the idea he has not given Lydia much of a life; she denies this and says they have had a good time. and he is grateful for her loyalty. This is an instance of getting through life by telling lies of gaiety sufficiently intensely to believe them.

Elizabeth is next seen in church, presumably praying, when the vicar comes upon her to say Will Bidwell is dying but refuses to see him as Will has done since the murder. As they walk on, Elizabeth suddenly sees it: Denny had gone to the cottage to warn Louisa both Darcy and Hardcastle said, and she can add that Will must’ve seen him, and so she breaks through Mrs Bidwell as barrier to Will and rather than see Wickham hang,


Will tells of how he came to the door, hit the man he thought had ruined his sister, with an iron, the man fell back through the wood and fell down a hill, with a huge stone ripping the back of his head. The scene of the crime we have now seen and heard ceaselessly repeated, is gone through once again, only now the missing murderer is there to explain it all.

We move to the area of improbable rescue with Mr Bidwell (Philip Martin Brown) offering to drive Elizabeth to the magistrate through the night with Will’s signed confession. Mr Bidwell blames himself for not staying by Will’s side — he was too faithful a butler, too interested in the upper class family he served than his own. I did very much like how the camera made sure that we noticed that although Wickham was saved in the nick of time, two other helpless poor people are murdered by hanging (as was the boy long ago hung for poaching, whose death has been repeated like a recurring nightmare predicting coming hanging deaths).


The sudden uptick into comedy and daylight (from a kind of film noir that the film is drenched in on and off, all shadows and darkness) comes with the return of gay music, Darcy and Elizabeth in the coach as he tells her there is no reason why Louisa should not keep her child and they act up to their responsibility and provide for them and the boy as an upper servant as he grows older. In a way this retells James’s paragraph where Darcy apologizes for not taking real responsibility for Georgiana when a child. A kind of mocking fast-paced voice-over narrative of Elizabeth’s dismisses Wickham and Lydia back to their insouciant publicly proud ways as they are turned off to make their way in America. Some how good feeling is conveyed by Martin — as she has shown a strong good heart and generosity throughout.

Anna Maxwell Martin near the end of the film

I love her as Elizabeth; perhaps I prefer this conception of Elizabeth to Austen’s own, only I would say it is an outgrowth of Austen’s: this Elizabeth recognized herself in a previous novel and the older soberer woman was inherent in the younger one.

I can’t quite explain why I was so moved by the rush of Georgiana and Alveston into one another’s arms as part of Martin’s narrative telling us how it all ended (the combination brought tears to my eyes). Perhaps because I loved my husband so, married him for love (He had as the world would and a couple of people did then say: nothing, no job, no presentability, no college degree, was just my peace, my stability, the one person I had met who I found trustworthy, tender, loving, with real understanding.)


I did not care so much for the ending which was an amalgam, a layering on of allusions to Austen films (yet it is found in the book which returns to being a sequel): Darcy and Elizabeth stand on the other side of the lake from Pemberley (apparently Howard Castle was filmed from afar); a house as such (whether Chatsworth or another) has become an icon since the ending of Joe Wright’s 2005 Pride and Prejudice with Matthew McFayden as a young Darcy and Keira Knightley as Elizabeth celebrating their marriage and love.

Now Elizabeth lets Darcy know she is again pregnant, and true to a very mild feminism about wanting a girl more than a boy, Darcy hopes for a girl. He picks Elizabeth up, swirls her about: this recalls the 2008 Sense and Sensibility where Dan Steevens as Edward Ferrars swirls an ecstatic Hattie Morahan as Elinor Dashwood about. Our reunited couple are last seen in front of the grand house — as the 2007 Persuasion placed Rupert Penry-Jones as Wentworth and Sally Hawkins Anne before a very grand Kellynch. The difference is the young master (boy) which adds domesticity to this re-establishment of the oligarchic paradigm where the great houses carry on no matter what the individual sacrifice (in this film, Denny, Will Bidwell, Eleanor Younge — none of them important characters it seems by this ending, which feels sort of tacked on, the last two are not Austen).


This hour works because it is the culmination of all that went before carefully woven in. Like other recent costume dramas, it attempts to soften the reactionary material, here of P.D. James’s redaction of Pride and Prejudice as a moralizing hierarchical detective story, by making the central characters appealingly vulnerable, humane, as Elizabeth says at the opening of Part 2, acting responsibly for and with one another through life. The 3 novels by James I’ve read, her non-fiction and autobiography have a deep vein of melancholy awareness of the continual losses and hurts we sustain and try to recuperate ourselves from by art, and that is here too in the surface beauty of the film and as I’ve said the quieter scenes.

It’s a mini-series where important scenes occur in carriages, important decisions taken. I never mentioned Alveston and Georgiana overlooking the book of illustrations of Scottish castles and lakes (Part One) so in Part Three (despite its hectic pace) beyond the moments between Darcy and Elizabeth (their talk in bed), I found the hands of women writers in the returns to the phases of daylight and night, and liked the owning up of having been wrong by Fitzwilliam to Alveston and Sir Selwyn’s rueful quiet asides to Darcy (Trevor Eve is excellent in the role).

Lydia at dawn waiting to be told Wickham’s dead

While at the EC/ASECS conference I heard two each perceptive and informed papers by undergraduates on P.D. James’s book and Jo Baker’s Longbourn: the two undergraduates rightly suggested that James (they did not take into consideration this film comes from Howtidi’s screenplay) was too faithful and worshipful of Austen and invented the Bidwell family in order not to have to use Darcy and/or Elizabeth as guilty parties to a murder. They suggested that James wanted to deflect attention from her unwillingness to move beyond Austen by developing Georgiana and Alveston’s love story as well as the Wickham-Lydia-Louisa triangle. I’ll add the reason the book and film of Death Comes to Pemberley are ultimately unsatisfying is this unwillingness to go deeper into pain and hurt, to subvert and transgress Austen’s conservatism. For example, we are supposed to look upon Louisa as just fine now, having a good life because her son is kept at Pemberley to become servant to the master of the house.


By contrast Baker crosses over, goes beyond Austen in her story of an illegitimate son for Mr Bennet, an exploited servant girl, the Peninsula War.

Still for me the problem with Death Comes to Pemberley is its subgenre formulaic unserious use of mystery thriller material; in Longbourn the problem is the author stays within the historical franchise of Austen’s novel instead moving out also to make an original historical novel set in the later 18th century. Valerie Martin does achieve a historical fiction beyond her RLStevenson franchise in her post-text to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mary Reilly, by including in her novel’s world her own assessment of the cruel hard later 19th century world and an idiolect, a style of her own fitting for her new heroine.


See also the general analysis of the differences between the 3 part 180 minute British mini-series and PBS’s 2 part 160 minute series: A spoilt film

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Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) in her characteristic thoughtful posture of the film, observing others

Another talking at cross-purposes while dancing scene: here irritated by Mrs Bennet’s talk of Lydia not coming to the ball, and differing on Georgiana marrying Colonel Fitzwilliam

Dear friends and readers,

What was aired on PBS last night was a spoilt version of the three-part mini-series I saw in the BBC version this summer using a BBC region 2 DVD.

Segments and scenes have been rearranged so as to turn an almost 3 hour mini-series (180 minutes) into a two part drama each 80 minutes (160), where the most hectic and thriller type scenes had the place of climax. The US PBS first part does not end on the parallel set up in the original mini-series between the boy poacher, young Riley, being taken away in a cart from his mother to be tried and then hanged and now George Wickham (Matthew Goode) being taken away in a cart from a wailing Lydia (Jenna Coleman — who appears to have gained a little weight since her last frighteningly anorexic outing in a costume drama) as does the BBC first part of three. When the young boy, Riley was cared away the boy Darcy and the boy Wickham rushed after him; now at the close Darcy retreats to the house, and Elizabeth stands on the porch in her surveillance posture and the reason for Darcy’s brooding is lost.

The worst aspects of the take-over of mystery thrillers and cheap modern sensationalist costume dramas all this summer have been deliberately made to dominate this Jane Austen sequel film. I wrote about the gothicization of Victorian novels on PBS in August (Bloody Murders and Country Houses), and this mini-series is seeking to titillate the same taste. They think they are not making a mistake for they will still get the costume drama and Janeite viewership and the more complaints will just get more hits, and be dismissed and may make up for any loss with attracting the same viewership that watched Masterpiece Mystery this summer — for note the rubric for this two parter — a Masterpiece Mystery.

What they did was ignore the art, pace, and meaning Towhidi and Daniel Percival’s contemporary and filmically stylish 3 hour costume drama, which includes the use of lingering voice-over from interwoven juxtaposed shots from deep past, recent past and sometimes more than one present scene throughout the 3 hours, a kind of spillage of thoughts and sounds across remembered time, and spectacular visual dissolving landscapes. The colors of the film are often golden, brown, burnt oranges and reds.

Opening shot

Allured by the film’s beauty and the performances of a number of the actors, this summer I studied Juliette Towhidi’s screenplay against intermediary sequel novel (I’d call it) by P.D. James, Death comes to Pemberley and can vouch for a number of still silent moments being shortened or cut altogether in this PBS version. In the BBC film Elizabeth’s shots (second long) are not cut or undermined so we see her in various stages of memory (first somewhat happy and triumphant as she looks forward to another Lady Anne Ball, but also remembers some of her mortifications at the first one when she had just married Darcy and overheard sneers at her), puzzle, brooding, hurt, disillusion, anxiety over Darcy’s attitude towards her, and (not to cover the long sequence of emotional development) across an intermingling reaction to his reactions. It is painful for her to remember how Wickham took her in:


This long tracing of an inner journey of Elizabeth’s ends not in (as is so common in women’s films, including the Austen canon) Elizabeth apologizing, humiliated in front of herself for her flaws, but at the close of Part 3 in Darcy apologizing, aware he has been mistreating Elizabeth, wrong to inflict on her his sensitive injured pride, and their making love successfully (in the middle of the movie, he comes to her in bed, sees her peacefully sleeping and decides to move away). He does this before she solves the mystery of who killed Denny. Towhidi’s conception of Darcy shows the inadequacy of the view Darcy is shy (the reading of Macfayden and Joe Wright in the 2005 P&P film) or needs to undergo an Oedipal transformation (Andrew Davies): he is a proud aristocrat whose self-esteem is rooted in his family history, public honor, home, lands and rank. He learns to moderate his adherence to these things in this film: by its end he has seen that Colonel Fitzwilliam is a flawed man, not to be fully trusted as an individual (Fitzwilliam’s rank is less important than Elizabeth’s integrity), and the worth of the lower status lawyer, Alveston (James Norton) as a person and Darcy supports Elizabeth’s encouragement of Georgiana’s engagement with Alveston.

Matthew Rhys as Darcy taking his son to ride, smiling at the reverence with which Mr Bidwell treats the boy and his job as steward/butler

This trajectory, this underlying plot-design with Elizabeth as the key pivotal figure in most of the scenes, and Darcy the reactive one, which Towhidi drew out of James’s meandering novel has been lost completely from Part I. Its climax comes about 2/3s the way through the BBC Part 2 where Elizabeth goes to a temple on the Pemberley grounds to think and Jane (Alexandra Moen) joins her to comfort her.

Elizabeth’s nadir from Part 2

Where that will find a place in the next 80 minutes of the film PBS is airing I have no idea.

Irritatingly to me, the PBS people especially eschewed moments where both Martin and Rhys are not beautiful people but Darcy and Elizabeth aging and under pressure, either (in this first part) still talking to one another, and (I expect in the next two) growing estranged. What I liked especially was this lack of glamor. Yes it’s not probable or realistic that Elizabeth would be so underdressed, her hair except when at a ball neglected altogether (she appears not to have a lady’s maid to do her hair), but it’s in line with recent heritage Austen films which dress the Austen heroines to be genteelly on the edge or at least not super-rich, which after Elizabeth marries Darcy she is. But it does fit the character of Elizabeth as enacted by Martin — not pompous, not involved with self, but with her boy (we see her reading to him) and her function as the mistress of Pemberley as a sort of going concern of people to be seen to, fed, gardens to be cared for, menus gotten up. Darcy is seen at the stable with his little son, about to go riding. Above all both are clever, but Elizabeth less prejudiced: she isthe person who puts together first who murdered Denny and why and her quick application of a signed statement by the murderer saves Wickham’s life. Sir Selwyn Hardcastle (our detective magistrate) played with a virtuoso flare by Trevor Eve never gets near the truth; has it all wrong from the end of the original Part 1 on (taking Wickham’s emotional self-blaming to be a confession). Nancy Drew could do no more.


Mrs Reynolds showing off what has been prepared for the ball — historically accurate — P.D. James’s stories often have an upstairs/downstairs perspective

James’s novel is a weak sequel: she tries to tell a story of the next phase of the characters’ existence as left there by Austen at the close of P&P. In James’s book The mystery element only emerges about half-way through: we do not meet the Bidwells until the last third of the novel: in the film the gothic elements begin immediately and the Bidwells are visited before the end of 10 minutes and their life and presence at the cottage and the father’s as butler in the house are woven into the film early on and throughout. James is writing a romance, rehearsing some of Pride and Prejudice in case the reader doesn’t know the story (!) and her book meanders tepidly as a novel of manners. Hers is the idea (to give her credit where it’s due), that the Darcy and Elizabeth marriage is not going well because of the distance in rank between them, how people treat them, and thus the death threatens their marriage centrally because it threatens Darcy’s self-esteem and the reputation (as he sees it) of Pemberley. James is politically conservative and this fits her outlook: an egalitarian marriage will be rocky, strained at best. Some of her descriptions of the grounds of Pemberley show she has Ann Radcliffe in mind.

Trevor Eve as Hardcastle

There are number of problems in James’s novel: She’s just not passionate enough about the detective murder bit — she’s doing that because it’s what she knows how to do (her life’s metier), and her treatment of the magistrate is apparently not anachronistic (though Trevor Eve in the film adaptation is made to act a Sherlock Holmes role — he does it rather well). She has read 18th century novels and historical novels and to some extent this sequel novel reminds me of Winston Graham and is like Jo Baker’s Longbourne. However, it’s not just not as good, not as thoroughly realized or researched because its franchise is not the 18th century or 18th century novel or modern fictional historal novel: it is Austen seen through a Radcliffean kind of descriptive glass. I did bond with Elizabeth as recreated by James: I am drawn to James’s use of theme of disillusion for Elizabeth, anxiety Darcy does not value her, Darcy’s own humiliation, and all this getting in the way of their marital relationship because it is so hard to escape other people’s views of you outside your relationship.

Juliette Howtidi has so re-structured the original novel and changed it — darkened, gothicized, swung the politics in another direction — the screenplay and then this film is almost another work. Some elements are the same. The basic story outline. The depiction of the relationship between the servants and the Darcys is even more reactionary than that found in Downton Abbey. The lead servants, Mrs Reynolds (Joanne Scanlon) and the Bidwell father (Philip Martin Brown) treat the lower servants with condescension and ruthless discipline, disrespect really, identifying wholly with the idea that they are living their long- hard working lives worthily by abasing themselves before the patrician luxury they provide. On the other hand, her scenes of the family together are filled with good feeling, the humane characters sympathized with, including when dancing …

One of the family scenes from Part 1 — click on image to make larger

In Twohidi’s mini-series there is a certain amount of understandable mutiny, and Wickham and his sister’s angry and resentment is made palpable. Towhidi weaves the Bidwells in early to show us one family’s vulnerability and anger (Will murders Denny thinking Denny is Wickham, the man who seduced and abandoned his sister). Howtidi changes Elizabeth to make her identify with the Bidwells, protest against coerced marriage for money. In the book there is a deep sense that somehow Darcy was right to doubt whether he should go against all norms and relatives and that is taken up By Howtidi’s film but in the film Darcy is shown to be wrong: James undercut whatever questioning content there is in Austen’s and her book can be fitted into those readings which interpret Austen’s P&P as humiliating Elizabeth and teaching her a lesson (there’s a scholarly essay to called “The humiliation of Elizabeth … following on “The humiliation of Emma …”), but this is not how Howtidi and Percival’s film has it. The film questions this stance intensely at the same time as it presents Elizabeth’s hurt and pride. The film’s depiction of their struggling relationship is valuable and I hope influences further heritage films and appropriations of Pride and Prejudice.

Given the time and arrangement originally followed on the BBC the relationship of Darcy and Elizabeth as an development out of Darcy and Elizabeth some 6 to 7 years ago works. It does not come out firmly and clearly in this PBS foreshortened and rearranged version so the best part of the film is lost (or spoilt).

I am not claiming this is a great mini-series in the BBC version. I concede that Towhidi was not above herself mixing the subgenres of the Austen canon (familial romance, melodrama with recently some use of gothic features) with those of the mystery thriller, with its use of horror characteristics (thus we had Denny’s bloody head crushed by a piece of iron in both versions), and a group of secrets as linchpin: who killed Captain Denny (Tom Canton), why did Denny rush out of the carriage to the woods (where was he going). All that Austen avoided in her books like poison is shoved back in. Anthony Trollope mocked the kind of reading and readers’ experience where it mattered who was at a stile at 1:15 pm on a specific day (in the Victorian period Wilkie Collins was among the first to feed this game taste), but it seems when combined with violence (and sex) this kind of thing is seen by PBS as a winner for increasing popular readership (and sales of books and advertiser’s interests). But in the structuring of BBC three hour mini-series, the psychological development of the characters, the nearly thwarted or destroyed romance of Georgiana and Henry Alveston (she accepts Fitzwilliam in Part 2), are at least as dominant as the mystery thriller obsessive gothic elements.

A good filmic moment: combines the film noirish gothic colors with a moment of strain for Elizabeth and Darcy

In addition, Towhidi (far more than James) tried to piggyback the formulaic mystery plot stuff (where the detective usually tidies up the world by the end) onto a new reading of Wickham (which has been becoming more widespread since the 2005 Joe Wright P&P and the 2009 Lost in Austen) as having offered in his original story some real truths (such as Darcy’s rivalry with him as a motive for strong antagonism) so that part of the story of the murder is the stigmatizing Wickham has endured, his bitterness and ruthless behavior in response. She has harked back to older readings of P&P where Lydia is seen as a spiteful shallowly vain creature: in this film adaptation we are asked to feel sorry for Wickham who was pressured into marrying Lydia: he would have had a happier life, perhaps been a better man could he have married the cottager, Louisa Bidwell (Nichola Burdell); at the same time he is clearly (as Denny is trying to point out in the scene Wickham obsessively remembers over and over) cruel in his behavior to Louisa. At the very close of the book, Mrs Younge (Mariah Gale) is discovered to be his sister, intensely devoted to him (for which he is grateful) to the point she wants to bring up his child as its mother; in the film we discover this early in the third part and it explains Mrs Younge’s presence in the first and second parts. Wickham is trying to buy his son from Louisa and using Denny as a proxy to give the baby to his sister: Wickham and Mrs Younge are also willing to snatch the baby, and Colonel Fitzwilliam to abet them.

In Towhidi’s version, Georgiana and Henry Alveston carry the film’s explicit mainstream liberal humane message: Henry is a lawyer who is sympathetic to the goals and ideals of the French revolution, and he and Georgiana are kindred spirits. They sit and look at picturesque views of Colonel Fitzwilliam’s Scottish castle over a river. Their romance is not used to make a contrast with Elizabeth and Darcy’s conventionally pro-establishment one in James’s book; it is in this film.


A general outline and some features of Part I (nearly 60 minutes) of Death Comes to Pemberley as available on the Region 2 DVD version of the BBC version:

Gravestone of Darcy’s great-grandfather, a suicide, almost lost Pemberley, lived alone in his later years with a dog

The story of Part 1 begins with two housemaids’s terror in the woods: they have been tricked by some male servants to look for the ghost of Mrs Riley into the woods. They are (very like Austen sees the gothic in part in Northanger Abbey) over-excited and glad to be frightened by their own nervous over-reaction to signs of a ghost. We see a grave of another generation Darcy. The next sequence is about Elizabeth’s delight in her existence: her boy, Fitzwilliam, running about the house, preparations for a extravagant ball she with Mrs Reynolds’s help has shown she can cope with. Her pride and triumph are tempered by her knowledge of how others see her and her memories. She talks with Georgiana, who is staring out windows: longing for Alveston to turn up as escort to Mr and Mrs Bennet. Elizabeth visits the Bidwells: Will dying of a disease, Louisa home with her sister’s baby (so it’s said to be).

Louisa and baby George (we discover named after Wickham, the father)

The elusive bed-ridden reading Will

On her way home, Elizabeth encounters Mrs Younge, and tells Darcy about it when she returns to Pemberley. The Bennets arrive and the first vexations emerge with Mrs Bennet trying to persuade Darcy to allow Lydia and Wickham to come to the ball.


James Fleet as Mr Bennet has lost his cool wit against the hysterics of his wife, and Towhidi is not above using despising of women to give us scenes where the wise doctor is told to give large drafts of sedatives to both Mrs Bennet and Lydia. But he does love his daughter, Lizzie, and in the BBC version near the opening of part 2 we see a moment of his peaceful satisfaction as he sits in the Pemberley library escaped to his books.

Fitzwilliam first trying to persuade Elizabeth

In a threaded in talk with Fitzwilliam in a garden who then proceeds to try to court Georgiana to persuade her to marry him (despite his misgivings over her reputation, to him stained by her early near-elopement with Wickham), it emerges that Darcy is so fragile he cannot stand to have the Wickhams mentioned, much less in his house.

And of course Lydia arrives, selfishly hysterical in a flying coach, and the flashbacks begin. The still below is of Wickham’s memories of Denny’s protests against him, and Denny’s scorn of Wickham.


We move back to the carriage drive, see Wickham and Denny’s coldness, and the silly Lydia’s complacency and Denny’s abrupt rush out of the carriage. There’s a confused time of running about in the wood which ends with Wickham coming upon Denny’s bleeding to death before Wickham can quite reach Denny, and
Wickham’s shooting his gun to attract help. This occurs at the 30 minute point in the original BBC version.


Now Darcy and Elizabeth’s marriage is to be tested. The formulation “death comes to” is found in a number of James’s novels and it is central to this film. In the second deepening half-hour, the intermingled talking and walking of Elizabeth and Darcy occurs, with scenes of them in their drawing room, as they try to cope with what’s happened and the behavior of everyone around them. Darcy must call a magistrate, Hardcastle, the son it emerges of the man who insisted on hanging the Riley boy. This Hardcastle is intensely aware of how he’s seen hostilely by those who remember his father’s harsh injustice. The use of landscape and voice-over and intermingled shots of past memories and present shots begins.

Threaded in are the scenes (brief but there) between Georgiana and Alveston, their joy in one another, their having to deal with Fitzwilliam’s scorn of him, and reactionary put-downs, how he would send Georgiana to stay with Lady Catherine de Bourgh lest she be somehow “besmirched” or hurt by nearness to this crisis. Repeatedly Elizabeth defends her right to stay, to help out, to follow her individual desires, which include loving the lawyer. Elizabeth’s scenes with Georgiana over the course of the whole film show their developed relationship and is another of the element which come out of Austen’s book.

Elizabeth listening hard to Georgiana towards the end of the original Part 1

The neutral way Wickham’s envy and anger at his lack of status are presented constitutes a less usual way to present the source of revolutionary feeling: rage at injustice. Wickham has brought Lydia to a ball she is not welcome to come to. They were going to “crash” their way in by coming late at night and daring the Darcys to turn them away. Wickham does feel rage; how could others think he’d murder his best friend so brutally? He is the outsider. He is admired by Colonel Fitzwilliam for his violence against the Irish in the Irish uprising; he is himself no revolutionary, rather simply narrowly amoral on his own behalf. He extracted (in one of the film’s many flashback scenes) as much money as he could get from Darcy as payment to marry Lydia. But in Part 3 of the BBC version Wickham is almost executed because he is nobody, as the boy Riley was cruelly cut off. Mrs Younge’s fierce malignity towards Elizabeth is jealousy but it’s made understandable; at the opening of Part 1 the actress conveys something poignant in the wood.

Mariah Gale as we first see her (through Elizabeth’s eyes)

The BBC hour ends with Wickham taken away because Hardcastle is convinced Wickham killed Denny nefarious reasons, like the 30£ Hardcastle finds in Wickham’s hat (actually we will discover the money Fitzwilliam gave Mrs Younge to buy the infant from Louisa Bidwell with), that the shots were fired by Denny to try to protect himself. Hardcastle never deviates from this conclusion and his gathering of clues after this (in Part 2) just serves this thesis.

As I am a reader who has never liked Lydia, I like Towhidi’s depiction of her as doing all she can to needle Darcy (saying in another room how Elizabeth wanted Wickham to marry her), and making her vanity at thinking all men are after her a hard version of Mrs Bennet, similarly silly. They both have a wholly inadequate idea of how they fit into society, of their own status as nullities. In the film gradually we see that Wickham and Lydia suit one another: the way they get through life is to live off others and pretend to be gay.

I’d call the novel a weak sequel, and its film adaptation in the 3 part version a strong one, even if under pressure to draw an audience, the genre of mystery thriller or a P.D.James novel (she is an English and BBC brand name) was resorted to.


PBS has only so much money (see Rebecca Eaton’s book reviewed by me, a sort of apology for what Masterpiece theater has become in the last couple of years). From their point of view it is more valuable to pay for the Newshour to send Margaret Warner to the Ukraine, to have foreign correspondents, to support good documentaries. There has ever been a contingent at the BBC which despises costume dramas a tea-time soap operas for women. This despising and the lack of money since Mobil left (Viking Cruise and Ralph Lauren are no substitutes) is what leads to not having beautifully-done and respectfully aired adaptations of great books and to trashing even of minor work.

Next week I will write about Part 2 (the second hour) of the mini-series as aired in Britain.



See Part Two: Interwoven Threads

See Part Three: A Story of Self-Recognition

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