'Countdown to Christmas' review: 'Christmas at Pemberley Manor'
Saying "Christmas at Pemberley Manor" (premiering Oct. 27 on The Hallmark Channel) is loosely based on "Pride and Prejudice" is being very generous with the definition of "loosely." This charming re-imagining has Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy trying to save a small town's Christmas festival and finding love along the way.
In short: Manhattan event planner Elizabeth Bennett (Jessica Lowndes) must convince billionaire William Darcy (Michael Rady) to let the town use his family's estate for the town's holiday festival - but he plans on tearing it down to make way for condos.
Rather than shoehorn the plot of "Pride and Prejudice" into the Hallmark template, the fun of this flick is how it throws a modern day, plucky Elizabeth together with a brusque Mr. Darcy to save Christmas for a small town. This frees up the movie to just play with two iconic literary characters, and let their "opposites attract" dynamic play out against the small town holiday backdrop.
"Pemberley Manor" combines two familiar Hallmark tropes: an unlikely pair attracted to each other and a "we have to put in a holiday festival" framework. It'd be super easy to lean in too far with either gimmick - a mistake other films make by focusing on bickering or concocting a ton of random roadblocks to stop the event, but not "Manor." If anything, their relationship is rooted in chemistry and the only obstacles threatening the festival are ones created by the characters.
Rady's take on Darcy stays true to his uptight demeanor, but without making him unreasonably brusque. (Because, afterall, Elizabeth and Darcy have to fall in love in 90 minutes) Instead, this iteration of Mr. Darcy is more business-focused than just a curt jerk. Elizabeth's job is what brings her to Pemberley Manor and Lowndes is the perfect combination of holiday romantic and earnest planner pulling every string to get the town's festival up and running. Their characterizations are faithful to what everybody loves about Elizabeth Bennett and Mr. Darcy.
While the first half chugs along nicely if predictably, a pair of nice plot twists shake up the story - a new love interest and someone trying to take over the festival planning. And these turns perfectly fit into Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy's blossoming relationship - one defined more by how their differences gently change each for the better. (Thankfully, this version of Elizabeth and Darcy isn't reduced to pair trading wounding barbs - because "Pemberley Manor" is still a Christmas movie afterall!)
Final verdict: The best Hallmark movies are the ones that put their characters first, and Lowndes and Rady charm in this delightful pursuit of holiday cheer.
Holiday checklist: "Christmas at Pemberley Manor" includes a sleigh ride, tree lighting, cookie baking, tree decoration and a Christmas festival!
Score: 4 calling birds (out of 5)
"Christmas at Pemberley Manor" premieres on The Hallmark Channel Oct. 27 and screens throughout the 'Countdown to Christmas.' Showtimes found here.