Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Burr Steers
Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Douglas Booth, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcoate, Suki Waterhouse, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Charles Dance, Matt Smith, Sally Phillips, Emma Greenwell, Eva Bell.
Jane Austen is probably rolling over in her frilly lace bonnet and hooped skirts at the thought of what Hollywood has done to her classic tale of romance, manners, marriage and class in Edwardian England. As the title suggests, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies takes Austen’s source material and injects healthy doses of zombies into the mix. The film comes across as a mash up between typically dry British period costume drama and The Walking Dead. It contains most of the cliches you expect from the zombie genre from George A Romero’s classic Night Of The Living Dead onwards. The result is something of a guilty pleasure, but nowhere near as much fun as Shaun Of The Dead.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is based on the bestselling 2009 novel written by Seth Grahame-Smith, who previously gave us the fanciful Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. This one is more enjoyable though as he gives us a spirited alternative take on Austen’s classic 1813 novel. However, purists of English literature may well be appalled.
The director is Burr Steers, who is better known for his work on comedies such as 17 Again and Igby Goes Down, and he injects the right tone of irreverence into the subversive material. The film is reasonably faithful to the source material and its themes of wealth, class and marriage, and the character arcs. Steers has lifted huge chunks of dialogue straight from Austen’s novel. The opening line of the film cleverly reworks Austen’s opening sentence and sets the tone: “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” However, the way Steers reconstructs certain scenes to accommmodate the inclusion of flesh eating zombies makes for novel viewing.
All of the familiar characters are present and accounted for, but as portrayed here they are a far cry from which they were depicted in the novel. The five Bennet sisters – Elizabeth (Lily James, from Cinderella, Downton Abbey, etc), Jane (Aussie actress Bella Heathcoate, from Neighbours, etc), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) – wield muskets and swords tucked into their garters, and they practise Chinese martial arts, skills that come in handy when the quiet English countryside is invaded by a horde of the undead. They calmly fend off zombies, all the while trying to find a suitable husband. Austen’s concerns about marriage and social status are still very much in evidence here.
Elizabeth immediately takes a dislike to the dour and humourless Darcy (Sam Riley, from Control, etc), a veteran zombie killer who hunts down zombies at society gatherings. They engage in a physical fight in the Bennet’s drawing room soon after she rejects his marriage proposal. But as anyone familiar with the source material knows her surface disapproval soon gives way to a reluctant fondness for him. The pair are forced to cast aside their mutual animosity and have to work together to stop the mysterious and deadly plague that has turned London into a zombie-infected wasteland before it devastates their idyllic corner of rural England.
Her sister Jane falls for Darcy’s best friend Bingley (Douglas Booth, from the recent remake of Romeo And Juliet, etc), another zombie hunter, but their relationship is jeopardised by class differences as well as the walking dead. The other sisters do not register as strongly here.
Technically, the film is very good, and David Warren’s production design faithfully brings to life the Regency era furnishings, drawing rooms and ballrooms of the upper class. Steers also dials back much of the horror in keeping with Austen’s sense of restraint, and there is a decided lack of real gore onscreen. There are some clever zombie makeup and prostehtic effects from Mark Coulier. The film has been edited by Steers’ regular editor Padraic McKinley, who uses that frenetic style of cutting that renders much of the action scenes quite senseless.
James makes for quite a feisty and formidable and headstrong Elizabeth Bennet, and her character is a far cry from the character created by Austen. She brings some sex appeal to her kick ass heroine, almost making her a very contemporary feminist hero. Riley makes for a dour and pompous Darcy, who here is a Colonel in the army of zombie killers. However there is little chemistry between the two, especially when contrasted with the pairing of Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle in the classic 1995 BBC miniseries retelling of the story.
Former Doctor Who Matt Smith adds some comic touches with his performance as the gormless Pastor Collins, who is intent on marrying one of the Bennet sisters. Jack Huston makes for an intially dashing, but eventually dastardly, Wickham, whose character has a history with Darcy. Charles Dance brings his usual gravitas to his role as the sympathetic Mr Bennet, but he is not given a lot to do. Game Of Thrones star Lena Headey sports an eye patch and gives us a warrior-like take on the character of Lady Catherine de Bourgh, and turns her into another formidable zombie killer.
Pride And Prejudice And Zombies benefits from some authentic period detail, but the gimmick value of mixing zombies into Austen’s novel soon wears thin. What next? Sense And Sensibility And Zombies?