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When the filming of BBC drama Death Comes To Pemberley came to York
11:29am Thursday 19th December 2013 in Features
After much excitement during the filming, York has had a long wait to see Death Comes To Pemberley. JULIAN COLE talks to some of the stars of the period drama beginning on BBC1 on Boxing Day.
FOR ten days or so in the hot gone days of July, St William’s College in York was turned into a film set. There were pigs and goats outside, tons of dirt and drifts of hardly seasonal mist delivered through a looping pipe punctured with holes.
Crowds contained by barriers watched as the actors ran through scenes, and film people wielded clipboards importantly or issued instructions through megaphones.
A horse-drawn carriage, without its usual form of propulsion, was rocked by members of the crew while an actor sat inside. Someone moved a large piece of reflective card to create the right sort of light; someone else waved a tree branch to imply movement.
All this activity was caused by filming scenes for Death Comes to Pemberley, a bestselling novel by PD James, in which the acclaimed crime writer combines her love of detective stories with being a life-long fan of Jane Austen. The book is a clever and satisfying twist on Pride And Prejudice, a sequel in which death and detection are added to the usual Austen ingredients. And now it is also the big BBC1 drama for Christmas.
DURING filming, the actors and cast members, along with Lady James, met members of the press upstairs at the college.
In one round-table session, Anna Maxwell Martin, who plays Elizabeth Darcy, was interviewed in tandem with Matthew Rhys, who plays Darcy.
Anna, who grew up in Beverley – “I know York very well, I’ve hung out here a lot” – was asked if she counted herself a fan of Pride And Prejudice.
“Massive fan, I’m the ultimate fan,” she said. “I’ve read it many times, and I read it again last year because my step-daughter is doing it for GCSEs. I’m a massive, massive fan.”
What’s it been like working with Matthew? “It’s been HELL!” she said, voice raised, eyes flashing to the adjacent table, where Matthew Rhys was doing his interview. “No, it’s been really good fun, the whole cast, it’s been like being on holiday. Everyone’s really great, no divas, apart from me. So we’ve had a brilliant time.”
With Pemberley set seven years after P&P, how is the relationship between Elizabeth and Darcy?
“It’s great, well it starts off great and then it all goes wrong. It’s very passionate and very loving and then it all goes horribly wrong with the re-emergence of Wickham into their lives. Darcy goes a bit nuts… [here Anna switched to a teen voice]: Darcy gets dead moody and then…”
But she loved the role, truly loved it. “Lizzie is one of many strong Austen women in that they were witty and strong and feisty and provocative.”But she was less enthusiastic about the costumes, and has kept away from costume dramas, even though she found fame in Bleak House. “I’ve avoided them for that very reason. I’m not very good with all that stuff. The hair, God!”
And then there is the corset.
“You are in a corset for 13 hours a day; I mean who wants to do that? You do get to eat, but you can’t eat very much. You can’t lie down in case you squash your hair.”
Anna is often thought of as a dark and intense actor. Does she know why this might be? “I’m only good at dark and intense,” she said, with another of her endearing cackles. “I’m not very good at doing laughing or smiling in acting. I remember a producer saying to me, ‘Are you ever going to smile?’ And I said ‘no’.”
Why is she drawn to the less cheerful end of the spectrum?
“I don’t know – I have a naturally sad face. I’m quite a happy person in real life.”
Why does she think Austen has endured?
“Oh, God, I think she was amazing. She was a visionary. Her female characters are so bright and witty and the men in Austen are so sexy. She was a virgin all her life and yet to be able to write about unrequited and fulfilled love so well in a heartfelt way is extraordinary. And if you take a character like Lizzie Bennet, there isn’t a dull word that comes out of her mouth.
“No man in Austen has even fallen in love with a heroine because she’s beautiful or has long blonde hair. They fall in love with them because of who they are, because of their vibrancy. If only we were teaching them that in schools. It’s an extraordinary thing.”
THE WELSH actor Matthew Rhys, who plays Darcy, has had a busy and prominent year or so, thanks in large part to The Americans, the US drama in which two Soviet agents pose as a married couple.
First up, Matthew was asked about his co-star Matthew Goode, who plays Wickham.
“I’ll happily admit it,” he said. “He’s got it all going for him. I hate him. He’s got it all. The rock star looks, the rock star attitude, hollow legs, vast knowledge. He’s one of those people who knows a lot about everything. He’s got that voice for free. I feel like I’m a fake, an oik from Cardiff saying, ‘Yes, I’m posh…’”
When Matthew’s father heard of his son’s latest role, he said: “Are you playing Colin Firth?”
Firth, of course, nailed the role in the original BBC adaptation, but Darcy’s character has developed in Pemberley.
“He is a lighter Darcy, everything in the garden is rosy, then things happen. He’s incredibly complex: I love Darcy, but he has this problem that he takes the world on his shoulders.”
Unlike Anna, Matthew’s original encounter with Austen’s novel was less than happy.
“I read Pride And Prejudice in my teenage years, we had to in school. I hated it – 16 years old, I thought: ‘This is rubbish’. Then I read it again and thought it was really good. She had something. This incredible insight into humanity and coupled with it this incredible elegance.”
How had he got on with having to wear the costumes?
“I love it. I tell you, the best thing about it is those shirts. We were discussing whether women have this thing for the billowing white shirt before Colin did that or whether it came after. I swear to God it has an effect. They just look at the shirt.”
With The Americans proving such a hit, and a second series due, how did he feel about his career? “This business is riddled with insecurity,” he said. “I just wish you could fully enjoy it.”
While The Americans continues, he will spend six months on set in the States. What does he miss about being in Britain?
“I miss this job. I realise how much I miss British actors as well. The absolute banter; I’ve had good fun on this.
“Me and Goode were discussing how you miss the physical topography and geography of a place. I know it’s a cliché but I do miss fish and chips because you can’t get it in the States. Everything. Humour, pubs…”
He won’t be watching Pemberley with his family, knowing the barrage of banter he would receive. “Oh God you sound Welsh – look at the way he walks…”
Can he watch himself on screen?
“No, I can’t – I do about five minutes and have to turn it off.”FOR Matthew Goode and Jenna Coleman, Pemberley marked a reunion after appearing together in Stephen Poliakoff’s BBC2 TV drama Dancing On Edge.
“I’ve risen in the levels from assistant to wife,” says Jenna.
“More clothes on too,” says Matthew.
Matthew and Jenna play the less reputable couple of Wickham and Lydia, whose relationship burns a fiery trail. At the main point of combustion, Wickham is jailed and then tried for murder.
Or as Doctor Who girl Jenna puts it: “Wickham gets locked up and Lydia goes shopping. I’m always crying or shopping or giggling… It’s a really fun relationship; they’re kind of equals in a way.”
What about the extravagant wardrobe?
“We’re having a strange English summer because it’s really sunny and lovely, and we’re doing scenes and melting,” says Matthew. “Then you look over and see Trevor Eve in fur and a wig. It’s the hair that takes bloody forever…”
Jenna has no complaints about dressing up. “I absolutely love it. I’ve been in my element.”
So what about the Darcy shirt, Matthew, the effects of which were mentioned earlier by Matthew Rhys? “I think Matthew Rhys has an effect on the ladies. I don’t think it has anything to do with that shirt at all. I’m in love with him. He’s one of the funniest men I’ve met. I haven’t affected anyone yet. So chalk one up for Rhys-ie.
“I think Matthew is going to be brilliant in it. How serious was he [with you] this morning?”
His remark is greeted with laughter from the press crew. Matthew nods, recognising the larkish behaviour. Then he says: “But when the camera’s on him you think, ‘Oh, you’re bloody good’.”
For Jenna, who plays Clara in Doctor Who, Pemberley offered a welcome escape. “It’s been great, it’s been really liberating. It’s nice to be able to do a completely different period, a different role. It’s just liberating, that’s the word for it. On the first day I got to scream very loudly. It’s great fun.”
But won’t you be taking over TV at Christmas, what with Doctor Who and Pemberley?
“Yeah, I’m going to be annoying a lot of people come Christmas,” Jenna says. “My grandma will be very happy on Christmas Day.”DAVID THOMPSON knew he wanted to produce Death Comes To Pemberley for TV, but he also knew he had a fight on his hands.
“We read the book and thought it was a really delightful book so we went after it very passionately against stiff opposition,” says David, of Origin Pictures, producers of the drama.
“We had to go and see Lady James and persuade her to let us have the rights rather than the other people who wanted to buy. It was a bit like studying for an exam really, three or four days of really boning up.
“It’s a splendid book which has obviously delighted audiences all round the world. We thought it was just a really great entertainment. It’s a wonderful mixture of a powerful love story, a number of love stories, as well as a really powerful murder mystery.”
David had wanted to produce a Jane Austen drama for some time, but felt he needed to take a different approach. Pemberley seemed to provide the perfect answer.
“You’ve got these great Jane Austen characters, but you’ve got something more,” he says.
“We’re so delighted with the cast. Almost everyone we approached said yes. Hopefully we’ll do Jane Austen justice and we’ll do Lady James’ book justice. Certainly, it’s going to be a very handsome production. It’s got amazing locations, very lavish locations.”
His original aim was to capture the intelligence and wit of Pride & Prejudice and Pemberley.
“It’s an unusual combination of having a witty, intelligent story with a murder story, and there are some really dark themes in the book,” says David. “It’s quite profound as well as being a jolly good murder romp.”
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