Note: Synopsis reveals important plot points. If you don’t want spoilers, stop now!
The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
In the days before Christmas, members of the Darcy and Bennet family (of Pride & Prejudice fame!) prepare for the holiday. Lydia Wickham, the youngest of the Bennet sisters but first to marry (under questionable circumstances to the scoundrel George Wickham), writes to her sister Lizzy (Elizabeth Darcy, née Bennet) that she will be coming to Pemberley Estate alone for Christmas where Lizzy lives with her husband Fitzwilliam Darcy. The head housekeeper of the estate, Mrs. Reynolds, must prepare the house for the many guests who will be staying there, including making lots of her beloved orangey biscuits, and has brought on a new housemaid, Cassie, to help. Cassie is eager for the opportunity to work in the grand estate.
Upon her arrival at Pemberley, Cassie runs into Brian, a childhood friend who is a footman at the estate, and shares the happy news that she will be joining the staff. Brian is thrilled but Mrs. Reynolds warns him to stay focused on the tasks of readying the house for Christmas, and not on his liking for Cassie or his affinity for inventions. Brian is a skilled inventor with loads of potential and the mind of an engineer, creative and always tinkering, but there is much other work to be done and Mrs. Reynolds has no time for anything else. The house is alive with the buzz of Christmas preparations!
Amidst the preparations, Mr. Darcy and Lizzy sneak downstairs for a moment of privacy, and Darcy speaks eagerly of his desire to have a child. Mrs. Reynolds ushers him back upstairs and goes over the arrangements for the holiday with Lizzy. In their discussions, Mrs. Reynolds and Lizzy share a sense of relief around the fact that Lydia is not bringing Mr. Wickham to Pemberley, as Darcy has explicitly forbidden Wickham from ever returning.
Some quick context on the Darcy/Wickham rivalry: In Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice, George Wickham is the son of the steward at Pemberley Estate. Mr. Darcy’s father gave young Wickham opportunities that allowed him to transcend the rank of a servant. George Wickham takes advantage of this, gambling and recklessly abusing the money and privilege, and secretly seduces Darcy’s younger sister in an effort to marry her and secure her fortune. When Darcy finds out, he saves his sister from the shame of marrying the scoundrel Wickham. When Wickham meets the Bennet sisters, he repeats the same scenario with the youngest, Lydia, and runs off with her without any intention of marriage. Once again, Darcy saves the day by finding the couple in London, paying off all of Wickham’s debts, and forcing him to marry Lydia thus saving her and the Bennet family from disgrace. As a result of his villainous actions, Wickham is forbidden from Pemberley, although George Wickham considers the estate to be the home where he grew up.
Back to The Wickhams: Christmas at Pemberley
Once the family has arrived, Lydia comes downstairs to escape the holiday romances that are thrust in her face upstairs. Everyone is happy, it seems, except her. She shares the source of her sadness with Mrs. Reynolds–that she wishes her husband were in attendance and wonders why he is forbidden, as she’s never been told the truth about his past and their marriage. Mrs. Reynolds distracts her from the topic with delicious orangey biscuits.
After a busy day of preparation, the house is finally quiet on the night before Christmas Eve. Cassie stays up late reading a novel, and Brian finds her and pesters her for attention. Cassie reveals that she doesn’t want Brian interfering with her work at Pemberley, even to praise her in front of Mrs. Reynolds. Cassie wants to be independent and to secure her own future at the estate, without Brian’s help. Brian struggles to understand her motivations, and as Cassie attempts to storm out of the room she runs directly into the infamous GEORGE WICKHAM HIMSELF!
Wickham stumbles into the house, drunk and bleeding, having just escaped a brawl wherein he was attacked for no reason (according to his account). Mrs. Reynolds finds him, and rather than throwing him out into the snow, agrees to take him in for the night and tend to his wounds, resuming the maternal role she played in Wickham’s childhood. They discuss the resentment he feels for Darcy, who, having been born into wealth and privilege, has always had an easier life than Wickham. Cassie is sent to launder Wickham’s tattered clothes, and Brian treats Wickham with cold remove, although the two knew each other in childhood since Wickham worked downstairs for years.
Later that night, Cassie shares a letter that she found in Wickham’s pocket with Brian. It contains some important and mysterious information, and they share it with Mrs. Reynolds, who in turn shares it with Lizzy. Lizzy, upon reading the letter, is struck with an idea and says she must leave on Christmas Eve morning to go into the village and find the man who wrote the letter. She stresses that no one upstairs can know that Wickham is in the house, especially Lydia and Mr. Darcy.
While Cassie mends Wickham’s coat, he tries to enlist her help in finding his missing letter. Cassie pretends to know nothing about this, and Brian overhears their conversation and mistakenly interprets it as them flirting and engaging in inappropriate behavior. In a moment of confrontation, Brian tells Cassie of his disappointment in her in the presence of Mrs. Reynolds, and Cassie is sent to her room. In a flurry of activity, Lizzy and Darcy come back downstairs, Darcy discovers Wickham and is greatly angered, but before he has time to leave, Lydia descends the stairs and much to her surprise, discovers her husband’s presence!
Lydia and Wickham reunite in a private moment and he shares a plan for them to go abroad with funds Lydia must secure from her father. When Mr. Darcy comes downstairs to confront Wickham, Lydia runs out of sight so as not to be discovered with her husband. As Darcy and Wickham quarrel over their tumultuous past and Wickham’s misdeeds, Lydia finally learns the truth, overhearing the worst as she hides just out of sight. After the men leave, the heartbroken Lydia shatters a plate and Cassie comes to help her clean up. The two share a moment of connection.
When Lizzy returns from the village, she and Darcy discuss their freshly gained knowledge. Darcy reveals Wickham’s plan to abscond with Lydia abroad, and Lizzy shares the news that she has gained proof that Wickham committed adultery and is also a wanted criminal for gambling debts. She plans to use this evidence to help Lydia gain a divorce. Darcy and Lizzy rejoice in their inevitable victory with more delicious orangey biscuits.
Later, in secret, Wickham tries to usher Lydia out of the house with the funds she secured from her father. Lydia tries to have a real conversation with him about their marriage and the real reasons why they must leave so hastily. Lizzy and Darcy come downstairs to stop them, and Lydia finally reaches a breaking point wherein she declares that she wants to be able to decide the fate of her life and marriage herself for the first time, without the interference and actions of her sister and Darcy. Darcy shares the truth about Wickham’s adultery and crimes, and when Lydia confronts him, Wickham still denies it. Lydia tells Wickham to go. Darcy also shares the news that officers have been alerted to Wickham’s location and will be coming for him. As a parting gift, Lydia gives Wickham the money he asked for, and Mrs. Reynolds walks him out. Everyone is relieved when he’s gone.
Lydia thanks Darcy and Lizzy for helping to secure her brighter future, although she will now have to live as a divorced woman. Darcy tells Brian that he has something to speak with him about upstairs, and everyone retires, having had a very eventful Christmas indeed.
The next morning, Boxing Day (when the staff gets to take their holiday), Cassie and Brian meet. They acknowledge that they are important to each other, and Brian reveals that he has invented a perfect reading desk for Cassie, complete with room for her candle and tea and sewing materials–he has been listening to her. Their previous quarrel is resolved. Brian also reveals that Darcy has offered to give him a position at the London house, to which Cassie objects, as it is just another servant job as opposed to a real opportunity for Brian’s advancement. Darcy, overhearing this, and with further encouragement from Mrs. Reynolds and Cassie, offers Brian an apprenticeship. Mrs. Reynolds reveals that she plans to train Cassie as her eventual replacement, a huge opportunity for Cassie. Darcy also reveals that Lizzy is pregnant with the future inheritor of Pemberley, news that makes Mrs. Reynolds rejoice. As Lizzy, Lydia, and Darcy go to share their exciting news with the rest of the family upstairs, Brian and Cassie share a special moment in which they promise to keep each other close in thought and share a meaningful kiss on the cheek.