It is a truth universally acknowledged that the only decent classic heroine is Miss Elizabeth Bennett, even though when I was growing up there did seem to be too distinct camps: those who adored Pride and Prejudice and tolerated Wuthering Heights, and vice versa. It was very much like the infamous Bay City Rollers versus Osmonds rift of the my ’70s youth, or the slightly less well known rift: Blue Peter versus Magpie.
I used to read P&P at least once a year. It is a book you can return to endlessly. The characters are so well drawn, but I think it is the dialogue that really grabs you – plus Austen’s sly wit undermining many of her protagonists as they let themselves down with the very words they innocently speak. Elizabeth Bennett was my first hero – a woman who not only was able to stand on her principles to the point where she refused the hand in marriage of a man whom no woman in her right mind would turn down, but was also able to do it with such stinging eloquence that it made your eyes water. For all social protocols and language, it is the slight formality of address that makes the rebukes that she delivers – and she knocks out a few – all the more delicious.
All of which is a long-winded way of planting my flag very much in Camp P&P, so I guess it is surprising that it was not until late last year that I saw the hugely successful BBC adaptation of the book, with Colin Firth in the lead as Mr Darcy, getting all broody and swimming about in lakes so his hair got wet and sexy. I really enjoyed it, so I asked for the DVD at Xmas and my husband, who can never bear to directly buy just the gift requested, found a two DVD set, with Death Comes to Pemberly as the second series.
I have to admit, my heart sank a bit. Even though I admire PD James as a writer enormously – in fact my father knew her brother quite well and my parents met her a few times – Death Comes to Pemberley felt as though it might stray just a little too close to fan fiction. I have never been a fan of works left unfinished by authors being taken over by other writers, and P&P is so close to my heart. PD James wrote a number of cracking crime books and wrote intelligent prose, too, but not Elizabeth B surely?
Now to be fair I have not read the book but last weekend the rain was coming down in sheets and there seemed no better way to spend the time than with some classic drama. I slipped disc two of the box set in the player and watched the last three hours of it again, and really enjoyed it. Then, because I had some time to kill, I thought I would just have a look at a few minutes of Death Comes to Pemberley.
That was the last of me for three hours. The series was brilliant, beautifully shot, and they had taken care of my beloved Elizabeth. The story revolves around a death, an accusation and the subsequent trial and is positively littered with British stars. The performances are top notch, the drama tightly managed. There are echoes back to and reflections from the original text and the whole thing is masterfully done. Perhaps because my expectations had been low, I enjoyed it more than I would have if I had approached it with more enthusiasm, but now that I have the plot and main characters settled in, I am really looking forward to the next time I can watch it – I may even find myself doing a little rain dance in my kitchen this weekend.
Perhaps that is why I like Elizabeth Bennett so much, because we both are naturally prejudiced – but I will not lose hope. She did alright in the end.