'Death Comes to Pemberley' Isn't By Jane Austen, But It Wouldn't Exist Without Her
It has been done to Margaret Mitchell's Rhett Butler, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes, and many of Miss Jane Austen's creations — iconic characters that get sequel stories written by other authors. One of those sequel books is now also becoming a two-part movie special — Death Comes to Pemberley by P.D. James — not Jane Austen. Death Comes to Pemberley is based on Austen's Pride and Prejudice and is a murder mystery from Masterpiece that happens after Fitzwilliam Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet ended happily ever in the novel. (Pemberley is, after all, the name of Darcy's estate.) The first part will air on PBS on Oct. 26 with the second part airing on Nov. 2.
Now, this is far from the first time that an author explored the "what-ifs" of Austen's beloved Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth Bennet. There is Pamela Aidan's trilogy that is from Darcy's perspective, Seth Grahame-Smith's bizarre take with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and a more modern day interpretation with Helen Fielding's Bridget Jones's Diary. There are also books (turned movies) devoted to people (like me) who are obsessed with the world of Jane Austen — with The Jane Austen Book Club and Austenland. There is even the Bollywood film Bride and Prejudice that is a guilty pleasure of mine.
Besides the characters being familiar in the story, so will the actors. Anna Maxwell Martin (from the Austen-inspired Becoming Jane) and Matthew Rhys (The Americans) will be portraying Elizabeth and Darcy, while Matthew Goode (The Good Wife) and Jenna Coleman (Doctor Who) will be Mr. Wickham and Lydia. Ugh, yes, those two troublemakers are back and at the center of the drama (because would that pair have it any other way?). In Death Comes to Pemberley , Lydia announces the murder while Wickham drags the body in. And since we know that particular married couple doesn't have the best moral compasses, Wickham becomes a suspect. (If you need a recap of Austen's classic before embarking on the mystery, PBS has you covered with a Pride and Prejudice refresher.)
I'm not sure how I feel about authors like James benefitting from these classic characters that Austen developed so well. It seems a bit cheap, but there is something fun to reimagine these characters in different situations — even if we don't know if Austen would approve. Yet, Austen herself wasn't above mysteries. Of only the six novels she wrote, one of them — Northanger Abbey — was an homage to Gothic thrillers.
Death Comes to Pemberley starts six years after Pride and Prejudice ends. And while I would rather see Elizabeth and Darcy in a more romantic situation than solving a murder, I guess there's more intrigue to an unexpected death. Plus, if Death Comes to Pemberley doesn't successfully give me my fix of Lizzy and Darcy, I'll have a good excuse to turn to the Keira Knightley adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Or better yet, the six-part Colin Firth miniseries. I mean, who cares if I just watched is last week?