The announcement by the Director-General of the BBC that BBC3 will be cut from our screens met with instant Twitter campaign, celebrity backlash and a petition with over 50,000 signatures. Lord Hall confirmed this week that Snog, Marry, Avoid, Ja’mie: Private School Girl and other programmes adored by students everywhere will soon only be available on iPlayer as part of the BBC’s cost-cutting drive.
On one hand, the move makes perfect sense. Constantly scrutinised as the renewal of the BBC Charter in 2016 looms closer, Lord Hall is under pressure to save an extra £100 million. With BBC3’s annual budget stretching to £85 million and commanding only 1.4% of total monthly TV audiences, it’s easy to see how the channel seemed ripe for the chop.
The decision also reflects the ever-changing nature of TV. The BBC is often accused for being out of touch, as if the license fee detaches it from the popular awareness brought about by reliance on advertising. However, in this case, they are demonstrating that they have their fingers on the pulse of new trends in broadcasting.
TV is moving away from a fixed schedule and towards on-demand viewing – when was the last time you postponed pre-drinks to catch a programme in the JCR? Radio 1 has just announced it will launch a channel on iPlayer in an attempt to entice the Internet generation with exclusive performances and interviews. Transferring BBC3’s combination of comedy, documentaries and reality to online is just another step to capture the youth audience.
However, as Lord Hall recognised in a speech in Oxford last week, 90% of all television is still watched live. Removing BBC3 from the air will play straight into the hands of other broadcasters. Last month ITV launched ITVBe, a new channel catering to the predominately young female audience clamouring for TOWIE and other entertainment series. The youth market that BBC3 serves is highly lucrative – Joey Essex has his fragrance, for goodness sake – and closing one avenue of attracting young people as other channels expand their live viewing is a risky strategy.
I’m not saying that the BBC should just copy its rivals. What makes the Corporation so special is that it is different from commercial stations, and the commitment to documentaries that strike a chord with its 16-34 year old audience means that BBC3 was never the direct competitor of ITV2 or E4.
However, the BBC does need to think of the wider consequences, not least the fact that, in the wise words of Whitney Huston, ‘children are the future’. To create a devoted viewing base in an age where brand loyalty matters and consumers are fickle, the BBC needs to appeal to and represent the youth audience. After drawing in children through CBeebies and CBBC, moving teenage viewers to Internet could exclude a chunk of young people raised on BBC content.
The power of TV as a cultural force comes from the fact that, unlike a high-speed broadband connection, it is present in all our homes. TV provokes conversations and can create stereotypes because it is so available. Rather than scrolling through the swathes of catch-up options and making a choice, we only have to press a button to see people just like us instantly represented on the screen. Moving a chunk of BBC programming to the Internet will dent this power and potentially marginalise many groups of viewers.
Of course, it is not true that Lord Hall’s announcement will eradicate the BBC youth’s audience. As a generation, we are adaptable and will sniff out good telly wherever it is available. However, it is clear that TV has moved on far more quickly than we could ever appreciate; power is rapidly slipping from the channel controllers and into the hands of the viewers.
The news last week that American actor Philip Seymour Hoffman had died of a suspected drug overdose devastated Hollywood and left the international community mourning the loss of an extraordinary talent.
Hoffman first truly entered popular consciousness playing insecure microphone-operator and repressed homosexual, Scotty J, in Paul Thomas Anderson’s epic Boogie Nights. Whilst only featuring as a member of the supporting cast, his was a character perfectly realised, with a remarkable and a poignant depth. Unequivocally, it was his astonishing gift of imbuing his portrayals with an inherent sense of tragedy, that not only made him incredibly watchable but evoked unprecedented sympathy – even for some of his least sympathetic roles. Notable amongst these is Allen, the loner who satisfies himself making anonymous and perverted phone calls, in Todd Solondz’s unashamedly bleak black-comedy Happiness.
Notwithstanding the garnering of wide critical acclaim, it wasn’t until 2005 that Hoffman would be celebrated with his first major award, winning Best Actor at The Academy Awards, the Baftas and the Golden Globes, for his beat-perfect portrayal of Truman Copete in the eponymously titled film.Despite being vastly dissimilar physically to Capote, he produced an uncanny likeness to the literary icon.
Arguably, however, his most memorable, and perhaps his greatest role was that of Lancaster Dodd, the insidiously mercurial cult-leader in 2012’s exceptional film The Master. An incredibly distilled character piece, Hoffman and Phoenix’s execution was mesmeric, each actor playing off one another like athletes at the peak of their game.
In the year that followed he endeared himself to audiences of a new and younger generation, charging the relatively one-dimensional Plutarch Heavensbee with Hoffman’s own dynamic charisma in the Hunger Games franchise – the final instalments of which will be released posthumously.
True artisan, termed an ‘actor’s actor’, Hoffman, managed throughout his career to slip seamlessly between American independent cinema, and the big-budget Hollywood blockbusters. In addition to his on-screen performances he enjoyed spells on and off Broadway, where he gained further critical accolades, as well as receiving three Tony nominations. His performance as Willy Loman in Death of a Salesman is amongst his most celebrated.
Fans of his work may find some small comfort in the knowledge that there are still Hoffman films yet to make general release: along with the aforementioned Hunger Game franchise, both God’s Pocket and A Most Wanted Man premiered at Sundance this year.
Few actors can boast the same credibility or unquestioned reliability of Hoffman’s name and his talismanic gift; we are at liberty to surmise that he never produced an off day or a bad film. That the fact he will never get a chance to is what makes this so hopelessly sad.
Philip Seymour Hoffman will forever be the subject of doting adoration and his sheer wealth of work lauded as that of genius; he was and always will be an actor first and a star second.
Ralph Fiennes, one of British acting’s most respected names, has little directorial experience, having only ever taken the helm once before, for his reimagining of the context of Coriolanus. He cited a number of directors as influences to an audience (who woefully neglected to ask Fiennes anything related to his noseless time as Voldemort) at the Phoenix Picturehouse on Saturday: from Anthony Minghella (“he was inclusive and very gentle… he nurtured performances”), István Szabó (who felt that “cinema was about the closeup”) and Fernando Meirelles (“he was very freeing”) to the mainstream auteurs like Cronenburg (“wonderfully simple”) and Spielberg (“he had such forward momentum, and keenly felt the need to get that moment”). He clearly learnt from his interactions with some of these, as his Coriolanus won great praise for the brutality and relevance of its revised setting, and now Fiennes is behind the camera for another film – one he says he was “surprised” to find himself attracted to. It is an adaptation of Claire Tomalin’s celebrated book, The Invisible Woman, centring around Nelly Ternan, the young woman who became Charles Dickens’ mistress in his late life, and who was for too long totally absent from the biographical history of one of England’s greatest writers. Fiennes says he was “swept up” by Tomalin’s book, and felt that the story needed telling.
The story is of a young woman becoming enraptured with an older man’s aura, and Felicity Jones is marvellous as Nelly, playing the woman both at age eighteen when she meets Dickens, and later, after the author has passed away, as a hardened teacher. Fiennes emphasised that part of the casting process was finding an actress who would not require trite “aging makeup”, “a road we didn’t want to go down”, and Jones does without such aids well. Her mannerisms are worlds apart between the two time-settings, and the contrast between the two states of her character is notable. Fiennes described Jones as having “an extraordinary talent, a thing, a gift that the camera loves”, and his praise for her performance was manifold, citing the “interior heaviness” and “self-possesed… toughness” that she brought to the older Nelly. It was key to the film, says Fiennes, that it charted “moments… where we feel the breakage in Nelly”, and no moment encapsulates the anger the young woman conjures on the steps to her home after realising the potential social ruin of her situation, when the director felt a “bang! She’d broken something”.
After “dipping in and out of all twelve volumes of [Dickens’] letters”, and reading a variety of learned biographies, Fiennes felt he had enough of a handle on the great author’s character to take the responsibility of portraying the man himself, and to his credit does a tremendous job. When Dickens first enters the film it is with ebullience and energy, endearing and bouncing, and he opens up a world of connections for Nelly and her family of actresses. Matriarch Catherine, mother of the three daughters, is played by the ever-excellent Kristin Scott Thomas, who brings a tender concern to the role which is perfectly balanced. She is aware of the many boons that could follow for her daughter if she should cavort with Mr Dickens, but also of the potential for disaster that is obviously present. That this will prove to be one of Scott Thomas’ last roles, after the announcement of her retirement, is a genuine pity, depriving the film industry of one of its most reliable performers.
The film’s main theme is the tension between marriage and love, and how the louche men of the film’s early segment seek to deal with it. Tom Hollander is dry and superb as Wilkie Collins, and his extra-marital relationship with Michelle Fairley’s Caroline (Game of Thrones fans will recognise her in a snap) is one which Dickens introduces Nelly to in an attempt to normalise their own relationship, to disastrous effects. As the film goes on, and the story evolves, the initially rosy impression Dickens gives starts to crack, and his behaviour becomes increasingly questionable. His extensive family is largely ignored, and Joanna Scanlan is terrific as his deprived and lonely wife; the lack of intimacy between husband and wife is depressing and affecting, and the move Dickens eventually takes to distance himself from her is not dressed up as anything except the horrifying cruelty it is. Nonetheless one my few criticisms of the picture as a whole is that is does not do quite enough to represent Dickens’ family’s side of the story. While Fiennes was clear that he felt the story’s focus was specifically Nelly and Dickens’, it feels lightly disingenuous when at a certain point his children and spouse are simply gone from the narrative, after having provided so much strain to that point. Even if Dickens successfully escaped them, Nelly’s guilt on his behalf is suspiciously erased as well.
In the Q&A session, Fiennes at one point joked that Dickens, were he writing today, would most likely be doing so for the Daily Mail, such was the occasional vitriol which he occasionally summoned, but would nonetheless be producing wonderful works. This contrast, between the easy-to-believe portrait of Dickens as one of the fathers of English literature, a national treasure and advocate of prison reform and equality, and the private figure who was nowhere near as morally spotless as one would wish, is a fascinating one. It drives the picture only when the main story is lagging, though, and it is ultimately Nelly’s film, not Dickens’. Fiennes has come up with the goods, and made an impressive, reserved and beautiful film. It could perhaps do with some pace in the latter stages, but the drama of Nelly’s young life is well worth the time taken to tell it.
The Invisible Woman is now showing at the Phoenix Picturehouse.
These days, the auteur director is a dying breed – Soderbergh has retired to pursue his painting (lol); Tarantino, who once said he would stop making movies as soon as he could no longer achieve erection, might well be heading in a similar direction; and Scorsese has moved away from older tropes in favour of a more dynamic style (compare Taxi Driver and The Wolf of Wall Street, for example). Rarely now, at least in terms of popular cinema, can one recognise a filmmaker by his or her choice of actors, or music, or even broadly, by aesthetic or tone.
But though the auteur is an endangered species, it’s not yet totally extinct: observe one ‘Wes Anderson’. Marvel as he habitually casts Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray and the Wilson brothers, loads his films with overtly stylised costumes, sets and colour schemes, and employs the use of the Helvetica font in pretty much every end credit sequence he’s ever directed. His eccentric approach to cinema is so well-established that it’s easy to parody, but that shouldn’t overshadow the fact that his extensive back-catalogue is joyful, smart and intricately layered.
As a filmmaker, Wes Anderson is at his best when depicting the dysfunctional: his signature neat, ordered aesthetic is perfectly at odds with the unravelling lives of the people he portrays. Rushmore’s Latin-speakin’, bee-keepin’, play-writin’, remote control helicopter-flyin’ Max Fischer would be, in the hands of a lesser storyteller, one of the most irritating characters ever committed to screen, but Anderson endows him with a spiky likability that has rendered him beloved to an adoring cult audience. The same goes for Steve Zissou, and Mr. and Mrs Bishop, and Herman Blume, and basically every character in The Royal Tenenbaums (which is a film that contains the line “I think we’re just gonna have to be secretly in love with each other”, and is, therefore, up there with the best of this century so far). Anderson’s gift is that he can present us with human characters who are innately flawed, and have us see ourselves in them.
But his genius does not stop short of live-action cinema: in 2009, he directed Fantastic Mr. Fox, a feature length stop-motion animation adaptation of Roald Dahl’s book of the same title. Fantastic Mr. Fox is, to put it bluntly, dope as hell. It is a children’s film which appeals to adults, without trying to pull the laborious DreamWorks trick of slipping in a few jokes for the grown-ups alongside more child-friendly slapstick and sight gags. It works because Anderson does not patronise his audience, approaching Mr. Fox and his family just as he would characters physically played by human actors: with sympathy and attention to detail, so that, simply, we root for them. And, you know, we really do.
Wes Anderson is a filmmaker whose obsessive love of movies shines through his every directorial choice. In that sense, he’s a real, proper auteur, and I think – with his brand of silly, stylish, clever cinema – he’ll be around for quite a while.
The Phoenix Picturehouse in Jericho is currently running Wes Anderson retrospective, in preparation for the release of his new film ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. Visit http://www.picturehouses.co.uk/cinema/Phoenix_Picturehouse/Whats_On/ for more information.
With broadsheet opinion pieces unveiling the groundbreaking news that slavery was “not very nice”, it seems that mainstream cinema’s representation of people of colour remains tied to narratives of noble suffering.
I think of James McBride’s open letter on Spike Lee’s ‘40 Acres and a Mule’ website begging the question of whether a black woman can get an Oscar nomination without playing maid to white ladies. Make no mistake, representations of white brutality matter and I’m both excited and curious to watch 12 Years a Slave. But when these stories are mainstream media’s only understanding of people of colour we run into problems. Well meaning white liberals shaking their head at plantations and wiping tears for Mandela can be just as limiting as that creepy woman at the bus stop who kept asking my mother if she could speak English.
This is what the author Chimamanda Adichie describes as the “single story”, a pre-set narrative designed to limit people of colour, holding them in a crude A to B storyline. It’s all getting rather repetitive. So when I want my fix of screen culture I have found myself looking outside of mainstream cinema (because no one needs to watch The Help more than once) and onto YouTube.
The Internet is no post-racial paradise but I am very grateful for a collection of rad vloggers and directors who are sharing their work with us and killing the single story one upload at a time. The following are a handful of highlights. They are not big or dramatic or sad. They just are. And that is more than enough for me.
The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl
You can’t really talk about people doing cool stuff on YouTube and not mention Issae Rae’s web series ‘Awkward Black Girl’. I don’t know why, you just can’t. I didn’t make the rules okay? Whilst I don’t think Rae’s work is perfect (her non-apology after being called out for transphobia was wholly unimpressive) this is a genuinely funny and relatable show. It’s also proof that, hey, its not just white people who are anti-social, awkward weirdos, we all are! Or at least I am? I don’t know you guys…I guess anything that doesn’t fall under the tagline of ‘adorkable’ is cool with me.
Hey Fran Hey
If, like me, you are a mixed bb with kinky hair and an absent Daddy, hair care matters. It is history and heritage and that hairdresser who broke my lil ten-year-old heart when she told me that I had to go to a ‘special’ salon for ‘people like me’. (Gotta love those friendly neighbourhood racists!) But it’s also the simple act of looking cute, and no curly haired girl should be deprived of that. I learned to do my first twist out through online tutorials and I see that as a very small, yet very important, act of resistance. There are tons of awesome black hair and beauty vlogs on YouTube but ‘Hey Fran Hey’ is my favorite resource for dealing with natural hair.
When people say ‘South Asian pop culture’ and proceed to give a longwinded lecture about Madonna giving Malala Yousafzai a get well soon card (this actually happened to me!) you know something is seriously wrong. In this sense, I feel so blessed that vloggers like IISuperwomanII exist. Her videos tackle a wide range of interesting topics like the difference between brown girls and white girls, Punjabi families and just genuinely how to be a functional human being. Also I want to set up her ‘just get up’ speech as my alarm.
Chesca created ‘Shit White Girls say to Black Girls’, making her the greatest person in the history of the universe. But she’s done way more than that. Her uncompromising video pieces on topics such as slut shaming and the George Zimmerman verdict are truly powerful pieces.
YouTube isn’t exactly lacking for nerd culture. But black nerd culture is still a weirdly misunderstood area. It makes me think of this Junot Diaz quote: “You really want to know what being an X-Man feels like? Just be a smart bookish boy of colour in a contemporary U.S. ghetto. Mamma mia! Like having bat wings or a pair of tentacles growing out of your chest.”
So it’s great we have vloggers like Chris Sanders taking down weird belief systems surrounding ‘authentic’ blackness, like getting called out for ‘talking white’ or ‘acting white’ (what does that even mean?). He also makes videos about Pokemon. Therefore, he is awesome.
Movie awards season is the best. I know that we’re all supposed to be a bit disdainful of the whole thing – groups of old white men voting to congratulate slightly younger white men (and sometimes, *whisper it*, a black woman) amid ridiculous displays of opulence – but I think that even the most hardened sceptic has to admit that there’s certainly something seductive about the glamour, and something wildly entertaining about watching these extravagant events unfold. For every painful Ryan Seacrest red carpet interview (“who are you wearing?”) (who am I kidding I LIVE to hear who they’re wearing), there’s a Jennifer Lawrence falling up the stairs on the way to collect an award, or a Melissa Leo saying “fuck” in her acceptance speech: these things are – admit it – the most entertaining debacles on planet earth, and no debacle is grander than the Academy Awards, for which the nominations were announced last Thursday.
Some were as expected: 12 Years A Slave – a take on American slavery by the British director Steve McQueen which is often described as ‘unflinching’ and ‘courageous’ but is, more simply, just completely brutal viewing in a way that every thinking human ought to experience at least once or twice – is a sure thing for Best Picture. Its star, Chiwetel Ejiofor, also looks set to take home the Best Actor prize, but faces stiff competition from Matthew McConaughey, whose physical transformation in Dallas Buyers Club (as well as his recent transformation into a great actor after years of bad romcoms – who’d have thunk it in those halcyon days of The Wedding Planner?) is radical enough alone to attract attention. It could also be the year of the perpetually fantastic, perpetually overlooked Leonardo DiCaprio: with The Wolf of Wall Street and its director Martin Scorsese behind him, it wouldn’t be a shock if voters finally recognised his consistently great work.
There were also some pretty big surprises, the most glaring being the ineligibility of the Cannes Palme d’Or winning Blue Is The Warmest Colour in the Best Foreign Language Feature category, and its lead actress Adéle Exarchopoulos, in the Best Actress race (she is the only person who has ever moved me to tears by eating spaghetti, and, put frankly, she’s better than Amy Adams who will probably take the Actress statuette for American Hustle). 23 year old person Jennifer Lawrence received her third Oscar nomination in four years (think about that and then think about how little you have achieved) for her hilarious supporting turn also in American Hustle, and actually-quite-good-actor-turned-absolutely-properly-mental-rock-star Jared Leto got the nod for his performance as a transgender AIDS sufferer (has anything ever sounded more Oscars?) – both are great and should take home the trophies.
The ceremony is on Sunday March 2nd, and will take place, as always, at Los Angeles’ Kodak Theatre. Join me and other fans of quality cinema the world over – we’ll be sitting in our beds, swearing loudly when our dodgy live streams freeze, and caning Diet Red Bull so that we don’t fall asleep whilst making very important tweets about Meryl Streep’s dress (I say “we” but I’m really just speaking to personal experience). It’s glamorous, this Oscars business.
When the jury responsible for the Golden Globe nominations decided, in advance of giving American Hustle seven nominations, that the film best suited the ‘Musical or Comedy’ category of the awards, it made a revealing statement about the tone of David O. Russell’s new feature. Presenting great performances from Christian Bale, Amy Adams and Bradley Cooper, this caper picture is very rewarding, but ultimately not quite substantial enough to justify its huge awards-season buzz.
Christian Bale is the central character of the film, though not by a wide margin, and plays Irving Rosenfeld, a con man who is forced to work for the FBI by the combustible Richie DiMaso (Bradley Cooper). Amy Adams is Sydney, Irving’s lover and partner in crime, who bridges the gap between the two in an expert long game to secure her own wellbeing. The final piece of the puzzle of fraught relationships is provided by Jennifer Lawrence as Rosalyn, Irving’s wife and the mother of his son, unpredictable in the extreme and prone to acts of irrationality. Based loosely on the ‘Abscam’ plots, Irving and Sydney help DiMaso to entrap public officials and nail them for corruption. They do so through the honest and realistic New Jersey Mayor (Jeremy Renner) who is unafraid of a little illicit trading to secure better futures for his citizens.
The interplay between these characters is entertaining and snappy, with well-written dialogue and impressive naturalism. Indeed, the script is very amusing, lending credence to the Globes’ judgement. But the film also has complexities which leave it more in the muddier waters of a dark comedy-drama. At most points it is unclear, especially with retrospect, what character the con artists are inhabiting, and whether they are still conning or not, and the lack of trust flowing between the players leads to good tension when needed. When anomalies arise, and they do frequently, the improvisations are nail-biting to watch, from Rosalyn’s chatter to a chilling cameo by Robert De Niro.
De Niro’s presence harkens back to his work with Russell on Silver Linings Playbook, and the success of that picture does somewhat echo through this film in the form of Cooper and Lawrence’s performances. They are very good performances, to be clear, but the erratic and narcissistic natures of Richie DiMaso and Rosalyn Rosenfeld do remind me of Tiffany and Pat from that film perhaps a tad too much. Still, those parts garnered Oscar nods, so they can’t be too far wrong.
When American Hustle is on song it is a real pleasure. In particular the recurring but not overdone interactions between DiMaso and his boss, played straight by Louis C.K., and the impatient interpretations by Richie of his superior’s ice-fishing stories, are humorous and meta in a way which is extremely impressive. Its lack of cutting edge and bite is an issue, however, and the somewhat saccharine ending does not do anything to help this. Still, when a film looks and especially sounds as good as this one does, with songs punctuating most moments very effectively, the need for a dark tone can be forgotten, and replaced by simple enjoyment.
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As the bicentenary year of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice draws to a close the BBC have found a foolproof way of racking up the Christmas ratings. Probably all too aware that their own 1995 adaptation of Austen’s novel couldn’t be topped (partially thanks to the Bridget Jones’s Diary novels and films, Colin Firth’s turn as Darcy lives on in the minds of many), the beeb turned instead to P. D. James’ Pride and Prejudice sequel Death Comes to Pemberley.
We flash forward 6 years after the conclusion of P&P to find Elizabeth and Darcy living at Pemberley. Preparations for an annual ball are interrupted by the death of Captain Denny, a minor character in from Austen’s novel, a friend and colleague of the infamous Wickham who becomes prime suspect for Denny’s murder. Although the costumes and sets are as lavish as any period drama devotee would wish – as in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice, Chatsworth House provides the location for Pemberley – the story, especially in terms of pacing, is not up to scratch.
Although the truth about Denny’s death can be guessed even if you haven’t read James’ book, what’s far more pleasing is the way in which Death comes to Pemberley’s narrative is closely tied to that of Pride and Prejudice. At times this might prove confusing for anyone who doesn’t know the novel well, but, for fans of Austen, flashbacks to occurrences from Pride and Prejudice, as well as added backstory deriving from James’ novel, are welcome additions.
A striking element is the presence and significance of the servant class, some of whom are closely involved in the plot. Austen herself was criticised for the narrow slice of society in which she placed the majority of her principal characters. Sadly Death Comes to Pemberley allows stereotypes to dictate the portrayal of many of the servants, furnishing them with regional accents while even the relatively low-born Elizabeth speaks RP. Unfortunately much of the acting seems to have taken place in autopilot, and as a result some new incarnations of familiar characters will be easily forgotten. Although she has some great lines, Rebecca Front’s Mrs Bennet is rather more toned down than has been traditional (Alison Steadman in the BBC series or Alex Kingston in ITV’s Lost in Austen), and therefore far less fun. The show’s first episode takes itself too seriously, and the murder-mystery focus robs it of any of the sharp social satire that Austen is admired for, or even the hammed-up romance which many love adaptations for. Some simpering scenes in the final episode do provide this, however.
The central episode is strongest, for it allows the legal drama to be put on the back burner and explores more traditionally Austenian themes such as duty, social rank, marriage and love. Of course this episode lays much of the groundwork for the revelations of the finale, but credit must go to both P. D. James and the BBC for encompassing so much. That said, the final episode becomes tedious, especially if your mind is running a couple of steps ahead of the characters’. Flashbacks which were well-used elsewhere are relied on too heavily for exposition, and as in the previous episodes they are shot using distracting lighting effects. A few of the show’s stylistic decisions are similarly infuriating, such as the habit of frequently altering the depth of focus within a frame in order to blatantly point out which character’s thoughts or feelings we should be considering.
Matthew Rhys’ Darcy never feels quite right, and is shouty rather than broody in his first appearance. Eleanor Tomlinson gives an empathy-inducing turn as Darcy’s younger sister Georgiana, whose touching story gives sceptical audiences something else to root for, when the closing minutes attempt to provoke sympathy for Wickham and Lydia (Matthew Goode and Jenna Coleman).
But it is always Elizabeth (Anna Maxwell Martin) who is the star. The various strands of Death Comes to Pemberley allow her to demonstrate compassion, ingenuity and formidable patience. When interviewed P. D. James revealed that in writing the novel she strove to replicate Austen’s characters rather than inventing her own, and in this respect Elizabeth is her greatest success. Anna Maxwell Martin’s is also the strongest performance, which should hardly come as a surprise from a woman who managed to shine even alongside Dame Judi Dench in Philomena. In Death Comes to Pemberley she does great silent work, especially in a flashback which shows the newly-married Elizabeth overhearing the cruel gossip of a group of society women who judge her on the basis of Lydia’s elopement with Wickham. Perhaps the best thing to come out of this adaptation will be deserved attention and further starring roles for Maxwell Martin. But Colin Firth needn’t worry about the competition.