Every year, Hallmark produces a couple of movies that are obvious homages to Jane Austen novels. This is hardly surprising, as lovers of Austen almost assuredly comprise a goodly percentage of Hallmark movie viewers. With this first outing of the 2018 holiday season, they don’t even bother trying to pretend. Pretty much everything in CHRISTMAS AT PEMBERLEY MANOR is essentially a PRIDE & PREJUDICE spinoff.
Our heroine is, natch, Elizabeth Bennett, a perky event planner. She’s played by the lovely Jessica Lowndes, who we saw last year as heartbroken editor Marie in MAGICAL CHRISTMAS ORNAMENTS. Elizabeth copes with life by organizing everything into color-coded binders, which is a completely reasonable thing to do and a method I myself employed years ago when I was an editorial assistant at a publishing house. Elizabeth is currently organizing several big events for her boss, who has a severe haircut, perpetual Resting Bitch Face, and is named Caroline Bingley, and if you have read Austen’s P&P you know this means that she is going to be trouble.
Caroline is the sort of person who enjoys making others feel inferior, which she does to Elizabeth by reminding her that although she is very good at doing all of the actual work (“You’re really more of a behind-the-scenes binder type”), being the face of big events is something entirely different. This is not a nice thing to say at the best of times, but particularly not as Elizabeth is about to head off to Lambton, Connecticut, to help her college friend George, who is now the mayor of Lambton, throw the town’s annual winter festival.
I should also mention that Elizabeth has written a letter to Santa asking him to help her meet her true love. I don’t really know why she brings this up to Caroline, as it seems exactly the sort of thing someone like Caroline would find appallingly naïve and use against you later. But it’s something we need to know, and I suppose this was the best place to stick it in the script, and so I am letting that go.
Now we meet Mr. Darcy, and if you didn’t think that would be his name, you have not been paying attention at all to what is going on here. Mr. Darcy is the head of his own company that does . . . something. They never really say what. But he’s one of the world’s richest men. He’s played by Michael Rady, who we also saw last year, as event planner Jack in A JOYOUS CHRISTMAS. This year, he has a beard, so that we know he is playing someone else, although it’s not a very good beard and I kept wanting him to shave.
Completely coincidentally, Darcy is off to Lambton too. He’s going there to finalize the sale of Pemberley Manor, a lovely house that has been in his family for years. Accompanying him is his brand-new assistant, Travis, who is very nervous about working for one of the world’s richest men. Honestly, I was a little disappointed in Travis’s name, because if you are going to go for the whole P&P thing and have already given us Elizabeth, Caroline, Darcy, and George, you might as well have thrown Charles in as well, even if nobody remembers him from the book.
Now that we are in Lambton, we meet the aforementioned George, who is absolutely adorable, and his even more adorable assistant, who of course is named Jane. Both of them are delightful and you want only good things for them. I especially wanted better wardrobes, as they were costumed in the drabbest things possible and this seems unnecessarily cruel when this is supposed to be a festive holiday movie. Unless this year’s Unifying Hallmark Holiday Movie Costume Color is grey or camel, which would be a tragedy too horrible to even contemplate, especially after the gloriousness that was last year’s color, aubergine, which I have still not gotten over because it was so unexpected and fashion forward.
As Elizabeth is driving into Brampton, she passes by a gorgeous house and sees Santa decorating the fenceposts with garlands. We also get a glimpse of her first coat of the movie. It’s white and not terribly exciting, which caused me more concern, but it looks nice on her. As we learned last year, coats are one of the more interesting ways in which information about characters in Hallmark movies is conveyed, and so I made a note of this.
Now it is time for some backstory, and so when Elizabeth is introduced to Jane, we learn that Elizabeth and George bonded after meeting in the classic literature section of a bookstore and George asked Elizabeth out by inscribing a note inside a copy of Jane Eyre. Since we are totally ripping off Miss Jane Austen for this story, throwing Miss Charlotte Brontë into it seemed a little shady, especially given her unflattering comments about Pride & Prejudice. Personally, I would have gone with Mansfield Park because it never gets the love the other Austin novels get, but that’s just me. And perhaps it was an omen, because George and Elizabeth went on only one date before they decided to be friends. Although really it was only Elizabeth who decided they should just be friends, and George totally wishes things had turned out otherwise, which Jane clues in on because she knows what’s what.
At this point, Darcy arrives in town too and wants coffee. Travis promises not to screw up this important task, to which Darcy replies, “Good, because your job depends on this.” He’s totally joking, but Travis does not know this because he’s about to wet himself in fear. So when he cuts the line at the coffee cart and Elizabeth asks him just what he thinks he’s doing, he blurts out that he’s really sorry but his boss is going to fire him if he doesn’t get back to the car that very moment with one piping hot black coffee.
Elizabeth, who as I have already told you has heard this sort of thing from her own boss, marches right over to the car and gives Darcy a piece of her mind about treating people poorly. This is all very exciting, and makes an impact on Darcy, so that when Travis gets back into the car and says, “I don’t even know who she is,” Darcy responds with, “That’s too bad,” and so we know he has been smitten.
Remember the house that Elizabeth saw? The one where Santa was putting up garlands? Well, that house is the very Pemberley from the title of the movie. The one Darcy has come to town to dispose of for no really good reason other than that his board of directors decided to, as if he has no say in the matter. Darcy and Travis arrive there and we find out that Santa’s name is actually Kristopher with a K. Like Travis, this is also not a name you will find in any Austen book, but there is a Very Special Reason for Kristopher being named what he is, and you will never guess it in a million years so do not waste your time trying.
As I mentioned, Pemberley is being sold. It’s going to be torn down and turned into condos. Kristopher mentions how sad this is, and manipulates Darcy into talking about how lovely it was spending Christmases there drinking cocoa. Meanwhile, Elizabeth and George have dinner and Elizabeth says, “I’ve always believed that life would be easier if you could color code everything,” which was the premise behind Garanimals and they have been around since I was a kid and so this is probably a true statement. She also assures George that “nothing can go wrong” with the winter festival, so of course it does. Specifically, a water main break under the town square means that they need to find a new location, because holding a celebration at a giant hole only works if it is a volcano and you have someone to toss into it, which would be a very different movie but one I would totally watch.
Fortunately, Jane has a list of options. Unfortunately, the list consists of a bowling alley parking lot, a cow pasture, and a field behind a bait shop. Then Elizabeth says, “What about that house where Santa was putting up garlands?”
Now back to Pemberley we go. Elizabeth feels confident that she can convince the owner to let them use the place. Just for fun, George and Jane don’t tell her that the owner is the guy she lectured earlier about being nice to his assistant, because that would spoil the surprise.
Elizabeth is indeed momentarily unnerved by the surprise, but she does her best to persuade Darcy to let them use Pemberley for the festival, while he does his best to say no, until finally Elizabeth is forced to break out the big guns and says, “You refusing to save Christmas for the entire town is going to get you on one of Santa’s lists, and I don’t think it’s the right one.”
This still does not work, as Darcy is more afraid of his board than of Santa, and so Elizabeth and George go Christmas tree shopping and Elizabeth gets the bright idea to contact the company buying Pemberley and tell them that they are upsetting the entire town by tearing it down. This is very clever, as the buyers then email Darcy and tell him that they would like him to find a way to engender goodwill with the community.
So now Elizabeth has the use of Pemberley and we can get down to business. Also, Darcy tells Elizabeth to call him William, but I am still going to call him Darcy because it’s a better name. He also asks her to please keep his name out of any publicity surrounding the festival, and she says she will as long as he goes shopping with her.
When we next see Elizabeth, she is wearing a stunning red coat, which means she is happy. Jane is also happy, but because she is a second-tier character, she gets only a puffy vest. Maybe next year, Jane. Also, do not be fooled into thinking that red is this year’s Unifying Color, because red and white and green are just general Christmas colors and therefore ineligible.
Now there are lots of scenes of Elizabeth and Darcy shopping, although the armloads of bags Darcy is forced to haul around seem suspiciously empty and this was unconvincing. This gives the characters lots of time to talk about things like how much Elizabeth loves Christmas and how Darcy went to both Harvard and Columbia and has dated two supermodels, although he is quick to point out “not at the same time.”
Also around this time, Travis and Jane finally meet, and it is very clear that they are meant for one another, so this is super great. Then Elizabeth and Darcy decorate a Christmas tree and Darcy says it’s the most beautiful tree ever, a claim I regretfully must dispute because it’s actually not all that impressive. This makes Elizabeth want to kiss him, but it is too early in the movie for that and so Darcy sends her away and she’s bummed about it.
She complains about this to poor George, who despite pining for her himself does what any good Austen secondary character does and tells her that Darcy has done more good for Lambton than anyone knows, including funding the library, a community center, and an after school program. This makes Elizabeth slightly less bummed, so the next night she and Darcy make cookies. While doing this, Elizabeth bursts into song, and Darcy tells her that she has a beautiful singing voice, and this may be foreshadowing.
In true Hallmark fashion, all of this time spent with Elizabeth is rekindling Darcy’s Christmas spirit, and he goes into a barn and finds the carriage that his aunt and uncle used to use for hayrides. Then Kristopher overhears Elizabeth singing some more because now she apparently sings all the time and he tells her she has a beautiful voice and should sing more often, and now that this has been mentioned twice you should probably pay attention to it.
Darcy shows Elizabeth the carriage and they repaint it together without putting any smocks on, which if you ask me suggests a little too much confidence in their painting skills. We also learn that the last time Elizabeth took a carriage ride, it was with the man who is now her ex, and that Darcy’s last relationship was with a teacher and so he is down for dating normal people and not just models. Elizabeth then gives in to her bad habit of revealing personal information by telling him about asking Santa for true love.
Now it is time for the tree lighting ceremony. This is supposed to be a big deal, but there are only about 30 people there, so maybe Lambton is smaller than it looks. It’s festive anyway, even though Darcy won’t come out of Pemberley to watch, a situation Kristopher responds to by informing Darcy that Christmas is about people, and so Darcy does go out on the porch and is standing there when George throws the giant switch to light the whole place up. This is basically like putting himself in the spotlight, and so when Elizabeth joins him on the porch, it is a perfect photo opportunity for the newspaper reporter who is there covering the event.
This becomes a problem when Caroline (remember Caroline?) sees the photo in the paper the next day and becomes irate that Elizabeth has managed to upstage her by getting her photo taken with one of the world’s richest men. And so she sets off to Lambton to set things right and put Act 3 into motion.
Now all kinds of problems arise for poor Elizabeth. First, Jane informs her that the man who was supposed to play Santa has the flu. This causes everyone to turn and look meaningfully at Kristopher, who mysteriously suggests that he will be happy to play Santa and no, he doesn’t need their costume because he has something of his own to wear. Then George tells Darcy that he’s still into Elizabeth and Darcy looks wistful but says nothing. And then Elizabeth and Darcy go shopping for presents for needy children and Elizabeth says, “Don’t you want to fall in love?” and Darcy says that maybe he does, and Elizabeth says, “Hey, do you think George would like this scarf in the window?” and thereby sends a mixed message.
When Caroline arrives in Lambton she is wearing a black coat, which is not a good sign. Nor is it a good sign when she tells Elizabeth that she is taking over the winter festival. Elizabeth doesn’t slap her, which is too bad, and instead goes over to Pemberley, where she finds Darcy incompetently wrapping gifts and says, “Caroline is here to ruin everything,” and he says, “I don’t think you belong behind the scenes, I think you belong in front.” Then they go for a ride in the carriage they repainted together and Elizabeth informs Darcy that he is not his father and this is apparently a revolutionary concept to Darcy and his entire life changes in a moment. Caroline is having none of this, and she intercepts them and inserts herself into a ride alone with Darcy while telling Elizabeth that when she gets back “they should have a talk,” which we all know is not good at all.
That evening, it is time for the holiday concert, which is the hottest event of the year. Caroline has even invited people from New York! So it is especially tragic when the night’s soloist has a sore throat and can’t perform. If only there were someone who had a lovely singing voice.
Oh. There is. And so up Elizabeth goes and sings “O Holy Night,” and if I am being completely honest, it was hardly worth driving all the way from New York for when you could just listen to Mahalia Jackson’s version, which makes all other versions irrelevant. Still, good for Elizabeth, because that is not an easy song to sing and she was doing it a cappella.
Darcy is watching Elizabeth sing, and is clearly falling more in love with her with every note, but so is George, and when George says, “I think I am going to ask for that second date,” Darcy says, “Go for it, bro,” because he is, after all, Darcy, and what else would he say?
The bad news keeps coming for Elizabeth, as when she goes to say goodnight to Darcy she is confronted by Caroline, who says, “I am taking over and you should take an early vacation and leave now so that I can get busy with Mister Darcy.” Meanwhile, in the other room, Kristopher Who Is Totally Not Santa is having a little chat with Darcy and saying, “You’re not fooling me and do I need to smack you with some mistletoe?” This finally gets Darcy to wake up, because when Someone Who Is Totally Not Santa tells you to do something, you do it, and he goes off in search of Elizabeth.
Unfortunately, he finds her hugging George. She is only hugging him because she is saying goodbye, but Darcy does not know this and thinks George has finally scored his second date, and so he stomps off back to Pemberley and angrily signs the final paperwork for the sale because that is such a Darcy thing to do. Thank Santa there were no porcelain kitten figurines at hand, or he probably would have dashed them against the hearth.
In the next scene, Elizabeth is wearing her white coat again, to indicate that she is super-sad. She becomes even sadder when Caroline informs her that the final night of the festival – Christmas Eve – has been cancelled now that the sale of Pemberley is complete. Elizabeth demands to speak to Darcy about this, but Caroline smugly tells her that he has gone back to New York and it is too late.
Elizabeth cannot stand to see Christmas ruined, and she launches into action. First, Jane texts Travis and tells him to stall Darcy at the airport. Then Elizabeth confronts Caroline and says, “I don’t have time for you and I don’t need your help, I have REAL FRIENDS.” And then the entire population of Lambton arrives to help Elizabeth set up for the festival. This causes Caroline’s heart to grow three sizes, and she says, “What can I do to help?” which, well, okay, I guess that’s better than having her trampled by reindeer. I still don’t like her, though.
Darcy is getting a little annoyed at not being able to get into his helicopter and flee back to his lonely existence in New York, and so Travis is forced to admit that there really is no delay but that it’s time for Darcy to admit that he loves Elizabeth, loves Christmas, and loves Pemberley. All of these things are true, and so they turn the limo around and head back to town. Only they get stuck in the snow and it looks like Christmas might be ruined after all.
Except then it’s not, because magically Kristopher appears and says, “I have a way to get you to Pemberley.” And then we hear sleigh bells, which may or may not mean something.
Whatever it means, Darcy arrives back at Pemberley in the nick of time to perform the annual reading of “The Night Before Christmas.” When he’s done, he tells Elizabeth that he’s not selling Pemberley after all because where else would they raise their children and celebrate Christmas? Then it’s all over but the kissing.
All right, so it’s not the most imaginative plot ever. But who doesn’t love Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy? Horrible people, that’s who. The rest of us know a good love story when we see one. Or at least a reasonably jolly one. This was a perfectly fine way to start the Hallmark holiday movie season. Although I’m a little distressed that the Unifying Color never appeared. Unless it really is camel. Let’s hope not, because I don’t need that kind of stress in my life.