Pride And Prejudice And Zombies (Cert 15)
1 Disc (Distributor: Lionsgate Home Entertainment) Running Time: 108 minutes approx.
It’s probably already been suggested that if Jane Austen knew what Seth Grahame-Smith had done to her celebrated novel Pride And Prejudice, she would have turned in her grave. But in keeping with the theme of this offbeat mash-up, perhaps Austen would have risen from the grave and eaten Grahame-Smith’s brains instead?
Upsetting many literary scholars and Austen fans alike, Grahame-Smith’s 2009 tongue-in-cheek zombie laden reimaging of this classic tome has finally received the inevitable cinematic adaptation which is sure to add further fuel to the extant flames of dissent and outrage.
The original story – which I cannot claim to have read or seen on screen – is, I am reliable assured via the Interwebz, roughly kept intact, merely set against a backdrop of zombie slaying. Front and centre are the five Bennet sisters – Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) – whose mother Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is keen to marry off to willing wealthy suitors.
The affluent Bingley family has recently moved into the neighbourhood and throw a house warming ball to which the Bennets are invited to allow Mrs. Bennet to play matchmaker. The conveniently single Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) takes a shine to Jane while sparks being to fly between Bingley’s friend, Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) and Elizabeth – just not of the romantic type.
Nothing really for Austen purists to worry about right? Except for the small matter of England being overrun by a plague of zombies and the Bennet sisters where sent by their father (Charles Dance) to train in combat and martial arts in China! Yup, behind those chest restricting bodices and flowing dresses the girls hide daggers and pistols ready to ward off any advances from the undead.
The first thing one needs to do when viewing this film is to remember that this it is not meant to be taken seriously which might be why so many people are upset by it. The premise is naturally absurd in the first place yet as the film reveals, the idea of a zombie rampage fits in well with the narrative of Austen’s original work and survives the application of the main themes to boot.
If anything, and I am basing this on what I have read about the original novel, it opens the story up more, giving the characters greater reason to interact and for the varied personalities to be explored. However in that respect, only Elizabeth and Jane Bennet are given significant screen time with the other sisters basically there to make up the numbers.
Darcy is portrayed as an insular and aloof with an air of ambiguity about his true nature, although he is a top ranked zombie hunter so his mind is often preoccupied. Many of the other men are the dandy fops associated with the era, aside from Darcy and his arch rival Lt. George Wickham (Jack Huston), who takes a shine to the feisty Elizabeth.
Whilst the cast play this totally straight and without any hint of irony, Parson Collins (Matt Smith) is the only one who feels comical. The obsequious cleric at first has designs on Jane but after being told she is off the market, he decides Elizabeth will do instead. This is a small taster of his capricious nature and complete lack of self-awareness, making for a humorously entertaining character.
And that really is the prime concern of this film – that it is very entertaining. It’s too easy to frown upon how a literary classic has been blasphemously tampered with and take a negative po-faced approach without giving it a chance, whilst for anyone unfamiliar with Austen’s work or is put off by its status as “classical” literature, this film actually makes it more palatable for them, as odd as that may sound.
For those with a more refined palate there is great humour in hearing Austen’s rhythmic and lyrical dialogue being exchanged while slashing the head off a zombie or in one fabulous scene, Elizabeth and Darcy engaging in a fight whilst spitting barbed witticisms at each other. There is also kinky fun in seeing such prim and delicately dressed women lay waste to a hoard of undead attackers with fierce abandon and vigour.
Production wise this is an impressive looking film with the 19th century period setting and aesthetic dutifully and lovingly replicated down to the last detail, with possible exception of Darcy’s leather coat. The budget might be modest but the zombies look sufficiently hideous and upsetting and the carnage is superbly rendered. The horror might be insufficient for gore fans but ample for lifting the energy and providing intense action, although the lack of an extended climactic showdown is a disappointment.
The cast boasts some well known names such as Matt Smith, who steals every scene as Parson Collins, Charles Dance and Lena Headley whilst newcomers (to me at least) like Lily James, Sam Riley and Jack Huston acquit themselves very well in such classically retro roles. James deserves additional kudos for her physical commitment to the fight scenes, convincingly kicking undead butt whilst wearing a 19th century ball gown.
What might put some viewers off is the balance between the zombie slaying aspect and the retelling of Austen’s story, as there are periods where the latter dictates the spotlight over the former, but the loquacious script, lifted and aped from the original novel, is wonderfully entertaining in its own way and beautifully delivered by the earnest cast.
It is with some irony that the first part of this film’s title is probably what prevents some people from giving it a chance. If the idea of Pride And Prejudice And Zombies really doesn’t grab you then stay away, but if the absurdity of the concept is an enticing selling point, hopefully you’ll recognise this as the gloriously silly and escapist subversion only the unexpected convergence of two disparate elements can provide.
5.1 DTS HD-Master Audio
English HOH Subtitles
The Badass Bennet Sisters
Courtship, Class And Carnage – Meet The Cast
From Austen To Zombies – Adapting A Classic
Creating The Unmentionables
Mr. Collins Line-O-Rama
Rating – ***
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