As an avid reader, I always get nervous when a book is being adapted as a film or TV programme. Often the joy of books is found in the little details which rarely get transferred to screen, as condensing a 400-page novel to two hours of viewing means only the broadest of sweeps are included. I have been left disappointed on several occasions as a result of this, in particular with Sky’s adaptations of the Discworld novels a few years ago.

Death Comes to Pemberley does not come with this baggage though, as I have not managed to read the book. On the plus side, this meant no expectations or disruption to how I imagined things. On the downside however, I also had nothing to measure it against, so I have no way of knowing if the tone and atmosphere of the show matches the writing of P. D. James. All I could go on was my experience of the characters in Pride and Prejudice, to which Pemberley is the sequel. Even then, the failure of these characters to transfer could have been as much the fault of James’ as it was of the screenwriter.

Thankfully, on that point Pemberley did not disappoint. Lizzie Darcy is as strong-headed as before, her mother as neurotic, Lydia as childish and Wickham as wicked. The only transformation of character is in Mr Darcy, who has become softer-edged (although still commanding), which is one that Austen had suggested at the close of the original novel anyway. Anna Maxwell Martin and Matthew Rhys play the couple brilliantly, with a love that is open, tactile and (shockingly for the puritans) erotic. Mr Darcy’s reversal to his pre-marriage self as the stress of the events mounts is moving, as you watch him distance himself from his wife emotionally, and most heartlessly, physically, refusing the touch of her hands.

Another joy were the flashbacks, not only to scenes in the novel but those that occurred before and in between the two stories. A particularly telling one was one from the Darcy’s wedding celebrations, where Lizzie overhears local gossips mocking her lack of fortune and chastising Darcy for allowing his heart to rule his head. It is clear that the marriage is not fairy tale, and the snobbery that echoes in Austen’s book did not end when the story did.

The plot, I have to say, was a little like wading through treacle at times. There seemed to be a lot of sub-characters who didn’t have a purpose until the final episode of the three. Of course, such is the way with some mysteries is that you have to persevere and hope for the payoff. Although the revelation of the murderer was an anti-climax it satisfied, and everything was tied up neatly. This was never going to be as bizarre or bloody as something like Luther. Although there was the horror of the gallows and a bit of blood, it was essentially no more distressing than a sedate Miss Marple. Even if the plot never seemed to reach a top gear, the characterisation kept you watching. It was a nice little Christmas treat, and that was all it ever intended to be.

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