Thursday, 26 December 2013

Death Comes to Pemberley - BBC One tv review

Death Comes to Pemberley, adapted from the novel by P.D.James, and BBC One's flagship crime show for Christmas, began this evening. Naturally, it boasts a glittering cast,including one of my favourite actors, Trevor Eve (I still mourn the premature demise of that excellent series of long ago, Shoestring). as well as the excellent Rebecca Front, whose very varied CV includes Lewis, and Jenna Coleman, seen yesterday evening in Doctor Who.

Traditional Golden Age detective fiction, of which the admirable P.D. James is - perhaps alongside Colin Dexter - the greatest modern exponent, is often associated with country house settings, and a storyline which presents a sort of homicidal sequel to Pride and Prejudice was James' neat way of combining the country house backdrop with a historical mystery paying due homage to Jane Austen. She isn't, however, the first British crime writer to have made good use of Austen's work. The late Reginald Hill wrote a notable story inspired by Emma, a book which he argued had many of the attributes of a detective novel.

This first episode of three began enigmatically, in the grounds of the Darcys' mansion. Two young women servants walking in the woods become frightened and claim to have seen a ghost, although we do not learn for some time the legend behind the apparition, or that it is (surprise, surprise!) supposed to be the precursor of misfortune. After this promising opening, though, the focus was for a long time rather more on pastiche Austen than on mysterious murder, and there were moments when I found myself wondering when the detective work was likely to get going.

Things did, however, start to warm up when, after shots were heard, a man was found dead in the grounds of the house. A local magistrate (Eve, in terrific form) was duly called in, and the credits rolled as the obvious suspect was driven away for further questioning while protesting his innocence. We can, of course, be sure that there is more to this crime than meets the eye. How much more, I don't know, because this is one of only a couple of James' books that I haven't read. But I'm looking forward to finding out..

4 comments:

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John said...

I think this has been mentioned many times on other blogs but I'll chime in with it. DARKNESS AT PEMBERLEY by T. H. WHITE (best known for his Arthurian sagas) is a borderline Austenian detective novel. The leads are even named Charles Darcy and Elizabeth!

Martin Edwards said...

Thanks, John. That one is a really strange book, don't you think? Two stories in one. I know some people admire it, but for me, it fell apart in the second half, and I'm not surprised White went on to other things!