Hallmark's Elizabeth Bennet holds a binder with color-coded folders.
Holiday Austen

Christmas at Pemberley Manor

Spoilers ahead! Hallmark’s Christmas at Pemberley Manor (2018) is an entertaining retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice (1813). The movie follows event planning assistant Elizabeth Bennett (Jessica Lowndes), as she organizes her first solo project, a small-town Christmas festival. An issue with the venue leads her to approach Mr. William Darcy (Michael Rady), the owner of Pemberley Manor, and convince him to let them use the property for the town festival. Elizabeth’s main goal is to find her “one true love,” and Pemberley Manor’s caretaker, who is revealed to be Santa, wants to help her make this wish come true. The movie explores the disparity between demanding bosses and well-meaning hard-working employees. The main narrative tension happens near the end, when Caroline (Elizabeth’s boss) tells her that everything she is doing is wrong and that she needs to take over. Caroline wants to build a working relationship with him to establish a partnership with his company. Unlike in the novel, Caroline is neither related to a friend of Mr. Darcy’s nor romantically interested in him, although she does still interfere in Mr. Darcy’s budding relationship with Elizabeth. Through these different working relationships, Elizabeth learns to overcome her prejudice and Mr. Darcy’s benevolent character is revealed.

The movie alters Elizabeth’s character to match the stereotypical Hallmark female protagonist. She is portrayed as a one-note, love-obsessed, semi-shallow, control-freak who is mocked for her over-enthusiastic work ethic. This is perhaps most clearly displayed in George’s laughter at Elizabeth’s organization system of color-coded binders. George is a cross between Mr. Bingley and George Wickham from the novel, an old college friend of Mr. Darcy’s, and he’s interested in pursuing Elizabeth. Elizabeth responds to George’s laughter with the incredibly naive statement that she has always thought “life would be so much easier if you could color code everything… family, work, love… although that one would be pretty thin right now.” Elizabeth loves commenting on her love life as well as how she would like to control the world around her. Her characterization as a workaholic is directly tied into how Hallmark portrays female protagonists generally: they’re workaholics who must learn to value love above every other aspect of their lives. This is especially true in their Christmas movies, where the female protagonist is the source of cheer, who must transform the serious male counterpart.
The movie keeps many of the characters’ original traits, if in a more simplified way. An example of this is how Mr. Darcy’s inability to laugh in Pride and Prejudice is translated into his deadpan and ineffective sense of humor. When his assistant, Travis, is too afraid to go into his helicopter and states that helicopters are “scary,” Mr. Darcy says that “It’s only scary when they fly upside down.” Mr. Darcy has to explain his joke as Travis took him too seriously. In fact, Darcy’s jokes land him in hot water with Elizabeth. When he jokes that Travis will lose his job, Elizabeth interprets it as prejudice against class disparity.
Eventually, Elizabeth, the Hallmark workaholic who needs to re-evaluate her priorities, overcomes her prejudice about Mr. Darcy, who in turn needs to express his benevolence more explicitly so that people don’t misunderstand him. This also relates to how many misunderstand Mr. Darcy’s deadpan sense of humor while Elizabeth understands it after getting to know him. This is meant to be a sign that they are well suited partners for each other. A pivotal examples of their mutual understanding happens after they set up a Christmas tree. When Mr. Darcy says that it was “very well done,” Elizabeth responds by saying, “careful now… people might mistake that for enthusiasm.” He rejoins by stating, “I found that most of my business associates’ frown when I jump up and down with glee.” She comes to understand Mr. Darcy’s personality, as Austen’s Elizabeth does, particularly his sense of humor and serious attitude. There is also a connection between Mr. Darcy’s charitable traits in the novel and Hallmark’s portrayal. Austen’s Mr. Darcy is charitable but does not want to get credit for his contributions. This remains true in the movie: Hallmark’s Mr. Darcy is very charitable, but his motivation is to help without distracting people from the cause by bringing attention to himself. As George says, “He’s more charitable then he lets on… William Darcy does a lot of charity but he does it all anonymously… the town’s new library… the after school program at the community center… look around… He doesn’t like the spotlight… he’s… he’s a very private man.”

Charity and goodwill are key messages to this movie. The relationship between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth brings out the holiday spirit in both of them. Mr. Darcy’s initial approach to charity doesn’t allow him to even go out to a tree lighting. He explains that “it’s best to keep a low profile… I want people to focus on the tree… not me.” However, his humility is perceived as a sign that he does not want to take part in Christmas events with others. Santa–who goes by Christopher before his real identity is revealed–tells Darcy that “Christmas is not about watching the festivities from a window.” Elizabeth’s and Santa’s Christmas cheer encourages Mr. Darcy to act against financial motivations and preserve Pemberley Manor, which becomes a symbol of Christmas tradition and spirit. Ultimately, Santa encourages Darcy to act on his feelings and imparts the vital lesson that “it’s time to believe in the magic of the Holidays. You can get what you wish for… but you have to ask.”

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