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Interview: Matthew Rhys

10th December 2013

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2011 saw prolific British novelist P.D. James release Death Comes to Pemberley – a Georgian murder mystery set in the grounds of Darcy and Elizabeths’ country home, six years after Pride and Prejudice concluded with their marriage.

The victim in James’s tale is none other than Captain Wickham, husband of Elizabeth’s flighty youngest sister Lydia, and it falls on Darcy to deal with the proceeding events.

Now, in the year that Jane Austen’s seminal novel reached its 200th birthday, Death Comes to Pemberley is also getting the BBC drama treatment.

So, will this Darcy, played by Matthew Rhys (The Americans, The Edge of Love), live up to the expectations of all those that have come before? We can only wait and see...

How did you become involved with Death Comes To Pemberley?

I had an offer from the BBC asking whether I would be interested in playing the part of Darcy - which I was quite shocked about.

Why were you shocked?

I don’t think anyone has that regard of themselves where they think “Oh I could play Darcy or Heathcliff, or any other big literary figure.” I think you find affinity really - certainly when they say you can play him. Especially in Britain and the whole immortalisation of Colin Firth. For those who have such an idea of who Darcy is, your relationship is so personal because you develop it yourself - it all happens within your own head, and then coupled with Colin’s wet shirt moment, I’m sure they’ll be legions saying “Darcy shouldn’t be attempted again!”

What sort of Darcy will we see in this adaptation? Is he different from the Darcy of Pride and Prejudice?

Yes he is. There has been a passage of time, he’s married; he has mellowed. Elizabeth has had a big impact on him, clothing-wise especially. He has a child, he’s a lot mellower. I think Darcy is incredibly sensitive.

What is his relationship like with Elizabeth?

It becomes very strained. I think Pemberley is an enormous chain around his neck – especially when it’s threatened and that has an enormous effect on him and his relationship with Elizabeth.

What does Anna bring to the role of Elizabeth?

She sort of is Elizabeth - she’s that headstrong forthright person.

There are a couple of quite key relationships from Pride and Prejudice developed a bit further in this drama. What would you say his relationship is like with his sister Georgiana?

That is one relationship which develops enormously. It has an incredibly modern turn in that for the first time Darcy says you should marry for love - we see that element of him. Darcy did ultimately marry for love but he did it on his own terms and bridged both things really in his marriage to Elizabeth – love, and to look after Pemberley. I think he passes that down to Georgiana, so we see the modern Darcy emerging.

And his relationship with Wickham - how does that develop?

I’m not sure it develops. What you see and what happens is you understand their relationship a lot more. You see how they developed as young men and where that relationship stems from. I think what you get is the complexity of their relationship and how torn Darcy is. You see how much love he has for Wickham and also how incredibly angered he is by his actions and what we show is how he manages to try and hold both emotions really. He tries to keep a foot on both banks in that way.

You filmed in some of the most incredible Stately homes. What was that like?

That’s just a bonus. If you’re going into some terrible studio, you’re always making that extra leap. Shooting in those houses it only lends itself to helping you.

What was filming like in general?

A little bit too much fun. Matthew Goode plays Wickham like a cross between Peter O’Toole and Mick Jagger which didn’t make our job any easier. We were also caught up in one of England’s first heatwaves in ten years. Roasting in leather, but the only option was to drink and keep cool.

You met P.D. James - what was that like?

It was quite daunting really. As much as they’re Austen’s characters, this is her creation; you’re hoping you’re doing a good job. Plus, she’s an enormous literary icon.

Death Comes to Pemberley will air on BBC One on Boxing Day at 8.15pm.


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