Darcy (Matthew Rhys) apologizing to Georgiana (Eleanor Tomlinson), freeing her from an engagement to Fitzwilliam (Tom Ward)
Darcy, having apologized to Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin), admit he’s wronged her
we see 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 about Wickham’s 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 (Matthew Goode) 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. James and Towhidi (it must be remembered that James is credited with helping Towhidi with the screenplay) are not above condescending comedy as they expose the innkeeper’s wife’s nosiness and absurdities (she overheard Denny and Wickham’s quarrel which we now know was about betraying Louisa).
They drag in Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Penelope Keith) apparently because they feel the audience would be disappointed if the snobbish useless dragon lady were not seen; the purpose of the scene is to show Elizabeth’s invulnerability to this woman now.
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 (Jena Coleman): 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. (Probably improbably; the carriage is treated as if it were an automobile.) Darcy writes a letter telling the verdict to Elizabeth (we have him communicating by voice-over. 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:
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. This is an instance of getting through life by telling gay lies 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. A king 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 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: Darcy and Elizabeth stand on the other side of the lake from Pemberley (apparently Howard Castle was filmed from afar), but 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 or even in 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 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, and 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 would put it 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, and with Longbourn 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 which happens to use parts of Austen’s story as Valerie Martin makes of her sequel to Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde, Mary Reilly, a serious historical fiction 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.