Movie Review: ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’
Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Charles Dance and Lena Headey.
Plot: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of brains”. Thus begins the story of Elizabeth Bennett and Mr Darcy, but this time with an unusual twist. In this filmic adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Jane Austen parody novel of the same name, the zombie apocalypse has come to 18th century England right as the events of Pride and Prejudice begin. Netherfield Park is let at last to one Mr Bingley, and the rest goes down almost as expected, except… with zombies. Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters must navigate the dangerous waters of polite society in search of husbands, whilst using all manner of weapons and combat training to fight off the zombie hoard.
Review: These seem like concepts that couldn’t possibly marry well in a story, a Jane Austen period drama and a zombie apocalypse. But, Jane Austen was all about marrying well, and somehow this kind of works out just so. I haven’t read Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, so I can’t speak about this film in terms of adaptation in that sense, but I know plenty about Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, and that was enough for me to really get into the film and appreciate the nods to the original material.
Now, let me just start out by saying that this is nooooot a horror film, and they’ve made a bit of a mistake trying to market it as one (I’m not even sure it was deserving of the MA15+ rating it got). It’s Pride and Prejudice with some awesome action scenes and some zombie blood being sprayed about a bit. I, myself, am not a horror fan, and I am a period drama fan, so I loved this film. It was just the right mix of romantic tension and badass women in ball gowns severing zombie heads with the blades they keep hidden in their garters to keep me engrossed throughout the entire film. It was so fun, and it was such a great twist on the classic story we all know. And for someone who knows Pride and Prejudice reeeeally well, it was an absolute treat seeing how the original story was altered to fit the zombies into the mix.
But the film really managed to maintain a “who’s next?” vibe throughout the first half of the film that kept me on the edge of my seat, certainly. I couldn’t help but suspect everyone of being a zombie at some point, and it was so fun trying to work out who was going to live and who was going to get zombified.
First up, I can’t say I was a fan of the exposition sequence in which the story of how the zombie plague came to England was told, but then, it’s hard to pull off an exposition sequence anyway, so at least this was given a bit of a different style, presented as a grotesque bedtime story for young children. It was a simple way to catch us up to speed with the current goings on in England’s battle against the zombies, and left us not having to ask questions later.
Unfortunately I began to feel a little irritated with Elizabeth, as you do with any main character in a film like this, when she kept getting all huffy and storming off practically into the arms of a bunch of zombies. Be more careful! This zombie thing has been an issue the majority of your life! That’s not to say Lily James wasn’t excellent in the part, because she completely was, and I’ve never enjoyed her more in a role on screen, in fact. She managed to balance the action and romance of the film exceptionally well, and I imagine that might have been a bit crazy to manage. But in terms of the story, Lizzie Bennet has never before been presented quite as unwise as this, and she was always written to be an example of refinement and awareness of propriety, which I feel was maybe lost a bit in this adaptation, perhaps in an attempt to modernise the characters. But, she adapted to the situation exactly as you’d have expected Elizabeth Bennet to do, and she firmly states quite early in the film that no man could ever tempt her to lay down her weapons in favour of wifely duties. A true, warrior inspiration to us all.
I loved the performances from Matt Smith as Mr Collins (tempted to say he stole the show, bumbling and hilarious as he was) and Lena Headey as Lady Catherine DeBourgh. They absolutely shone in their roles and it was so fun to watch Lady Catherine and Lizzie duke it out in a sword fight after Lizzie refuses to promise to never marry Darcy. Lizzie earns Lady Catherine’s respect in a way she never really managed in Pride and Prejudice, and that was so excellent to see on screen. Also high up there on the list of favourite scenes was Darcy’s first proposal to Elizabeth, which goes just as terribly as you remember, except this one results in almost an all-out brawl as they fling insults and weapons at each other in the most entertaining and yet heartbreaking manner.
Sadly missing, however, was Lizzie and Darcy’s first dance at the Netherfield ball, which felt like a true travesty to leave out. But I survived, and so will you I’m sure, because things kicked along pretty quickly from then.
As the film progressed, we got to unravel the mystery of this zombie plague’s progression, and a series of suspicious events that all pointed to one nefarious evil scheme, but our heroes won out. It was quite cool too to see one of the most romantic, and yet sedate love stories of all time get put through the life-and-death situations wringer and respond exactly as you’d have liked. Nothing like a bit of fearing for each other’s lives and saving each other multiple times from certain death to bring a couple closer together…
Before I wrap up, a query for anyone who’s read the book… what was up with Lady Catherine’s daughter? It really seemed like there was something up, but then nothing really came of it and I’m so curious now! If you’ve got some secrets from the books to share, jump into the comments and let me know, otherwise I’m going to assume it was just me “who’s next?” paranoia really getting to me.
I sincerely enjoyed this film, although I’m sure it’s not for everyone. If you’re a fan of Pride and Prejudice, though, I do recommend you give it a shot and see how you go, because it really was a hugely fun ride. If you’re still not sold, check out the trailer, and then remember that it’s much more romantic than the trailer makes it look…