Boxing Day TV review: Thanks to the prowess of PD James's Death Comes to Pemberley, it’s a delight to be lost in Austen again

Whatever objections purists might have were cheerfully put to one side

Christmas just isn’t quite Christmas without a period drama, but with the classical canon of Dickens, Eliot, Austen and Hardy all thoroughly exhausted, we’re running short on original material to adapt for the screen. Good on the BBC, then, for thinking of Death Comes to Pemberley, PD James’s 2011 Austen pastiche, which rejoins the characters of Pride and Prejudice six years after the close of that novel.

At Pemberley, the Darcy family and their servants were busy preparing for a ball when Jane’s disgraced sister, Lydia (Jenna Coleman from Doctor Who!), and her caddish husband, Mr Wickham (a perfectly cast Matthew Goode), turned up, uninvited. Lydia was screaming about some shots heard in the wood and soon Mr Wickham was in the frame for murder, which put their stiffly honourable host, Mr Darcy (Matthew Rhys), in another difficult position. It was a lot of fun – and whatever objections purists might have to a Jane Austen book that wasn’t actually written by Jane Austen can cheerfully be put aside: after all, screen versions always involve the creative input of others.

No, the real problem for this three-part series isn’t the shadow of influence cast by Austen herself, but the one cast by the BBC’s 1995 Pride and Prejudice adaptation, which kicked off a global wave of Austenmania and continues to turn up in lists of the greatest ever TV programmes. I’m not sure I quite warmed to Anna Maxwell Martin as Elizabeth Darcy née Bennet, but her struggles were as nothing compared to Matthew Rhys. In the billowy, wet-shirt competition that is playing Mr Darcy, Firth will always come first.

What Death Comes to Pemberley does have over Pride‘n’Prej is an author attuned to modern sensibilities. There was the upstairs/downstairs tension of Downton Abbey, the murder mystery plot of Sherlock and, for some reason, half the brilliant cast of The Thick of It. Rebecca Front hit the right note of hysteria as Mrs Bennet and Joanna Scanlan brought just a touch of civil servant Terri to the disapproving housekeeper Mrs Reynolds. Let’s also give a mention to Kevin Eldon (or “the actor Kevin Eldon”, if you prefer) as Dr Belcher. He didn’t do much in this first episode, but I know fans of under-watched Nineties comedy will join me in hoping he gets more lines next time round.

Boxing Day’s other big treat was an adaptation of another popular book from 2011, David Walliams’s novel for children Gangsta Granny. Last year, his 2009 novel Mr Stink, starring an uncharacteristically grubby Hugh Bonneville, was a big Christmas TV success, and now this. Are we witnessing a new festive tradition in the making?

Reece Buttery starred as Ben, a boy who hates staying over at his grandmother’s every Friday while his ballroom-dancing obsessed parents (David Walliams and Miranda Hart) sew sequins on to their OTT outfits, or catch another episode of Strictly Come Dancing. In Ben’s eyes, Granny (Julia McKenzie) is just a boring old woman who’s idea of a slap-up meal is cabbage soup and whose idea of fun is Scrabble and a 7.30 bedtime. But might he have underestimated his old nan?

Aside from being something of an extended insult to Strictly fans (Britain’s Got Talent judge Walliams is clearly fiercely loyal to his own reality-TV brand), Gangsta Granny had a moving message that was a cut above the usual children’s-story moral. It was a reminder to treat the elderly and, indeed, all family members, with a respect for their individual passions and secret selves. As Gangsta Granny says: “Just because we’re old, doesn’t mean we’re boring. We might just surprise you.”

Arts and Entertainment
Billie Piper as Brona in Penny Dreadful
tvReview: It’s business as usual in Victorian London. Let’s hope that changes as we get further into the new series spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
No Offence
tvReview: No Offence has characters who are larger than life and yet somehow completely true to life at the same time spoiler alert
Arts and Entertainment
The Queen (Kristin Scott Thomas) in The Audience
theatreReview: Stephen Daldry's direction is crisp in perfectly-timed revival
Arts and Entertainment

Will Poulter will play the shape-shifting monsterfilm
Arts and Entertainment

books
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Ed Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    Miliband's unlikely journey from hapless geek to heart-throb

    He was meant to be Labour's biggest handicap - but has become almost an asset
    General Election 2015: A guide to the smaller parties, from the the National Health Action Party to the Church of the Militant Elvis Party

    On the margins

    From Militant Elvis to Women's Equality: a guide to the underdogs standing in the election
    Amr Darrag: Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister in exile still believes Egypt's military regime can be replaced with 'moderate' Islamic rule

    'This is the battle of young Egypt for the future of our country'

    Ex-Muslim Brotherhood minister Amr Darrag still believes the opposition can rid Egypt of its military regime and replace it with 'moderate' Islamic rule, he tells Robert Fisk
    Why patients must rely less on doctors: Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'

    Why patients must rely less on doctors

    Improving our own health is the 'blockbuster drug of the century'
    Sarah Lucas is the perfect artist to represent Britain at the Venice Biennale

    Flesh in Venice

    Sarah Lucas has filled the British pavilion at the Venice Biennale with slinky cats and casts of her female friends' private parts. It makes you proud to be a woman, says Karen Wright
    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    11 best anti-ageing day creams

    Slow down the ageing process with one of these high-performance, hardworking anti-agers
    Juventus 2 Real Madrid 1: Five things we learnt, including Iker Casillas is past it and Carlos Tevez remains effective

    Juventus vs Real Madrid

    Five things we learnt from the Italian's Champions League first leg win over the Spanish giants
    Ashes 2015: Test series looks a lost cause for England... whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket

    Ashes series looks a lost cause for England...

    Whoever takes over as ECB director of cricket, says Stephen Brenkley
    Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

    Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

    Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

    Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

    Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
    China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

    China's influence on fashion

    At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
    Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

    The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

    Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
    Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

    Rainbow shades

    It's all bright on the night
    'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

    Bread from heaven

    Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
    Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

    How 'the Axe' helped Labour

    UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power