I teach high school English and have a master’s degree in my content, so I’ve read quite a bit and I’ve studied many authors. I took a seminar in Jane Austen, but, to my disappointment, the only book I enjoyed was one NOT written by Austen (Evelina by Frances Burney, in case you’re curious). I’ve read the classic novel Pride and Prejudice a few times, but it just doesn’t appeal to me. Austen, as talented a writer as she was, simply isn’t my thing.
I’m also a horror fan. I’ve seen (and reviewed) all kinds of horror films, and I’ve learned what I like and don’t like in the genre, just as I have in my reading habits. While I can respect the subgenre of zombie films, most of them don’t do much for me, aside from “28 Days Later” and the Romero films. They don’t particularly frighten me, and I got tired of the recent resurgence pretty quickly. Now don’t get me wrong — I’m not saying they’re boring or bad movies; I’m just saying they’re not my favorite.
When the Seth Grahame-Smith mash-up satire novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was released in 2009, I bought it, thinking it might make the classic novel more palatable for me. As popular as the novel was, I couldn’t get through it either. I just didn’t like it, I’m sorry to say. So going into the film adaptation, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was convinced I was going to be bored. The trailers looked ridiculous, and I was sure it was going to be an travesty like “I, Frankenstein.” I was actually embarrassed to ask for ticket at the theater.
I was wrong. Oh, boy . . . was I wrong.
In 19th century England, a plague broke out, and those who succumbed to the virus died, later rising from their graves and attacking the living. To protect the population, the Grand Barrier, a 100-foot wall, was built around London and the waterway called the Royal Canal, to protect the city. The wealthy traveled to Japan and the wise ventured to China, each to learn the ancient arts of battle. Women are raised in refinement, and are expected to be demure, well-read, polite company, and good wives. The Bennets have raised their daughters to be exceptional in the deadly arts, which means there was less time for certain refinements, and the family occasionally has to deal with the condescension of wealthier society.
Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips, “The Decoy Bride”) now spends her time trying to find suitable husbands for her five girls — Elizabeth (Lily James, “Cinderella”), Jane (Bella Heathcote, “The Curse of Downers Grove”), Lydia (Ellie Bamber, “The Falling”), Mary (Millie Brady, “Legend”) and Kitty (Suki Waterhouse, “Insurgent”) — with the hopes that they will all be cared for after she and her husband (Charles Dance, “The Imitation Game”) have passed away.
Jane is the most lovely of the Bennet girls, and immediately attracts Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, “Jupiter Ascending”), a gentleman with considerable wealth. He and his friend, Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley, “Maleficent”) meet the Bennets at a social gathering, and he soon makes his formal intentions clear. Darcy, on the other hand, clashes with Elizabeth, who finds him intolerably prideful and rude. Over the course of the story, they run into each other repeatedly, as polite society often does in Austen’s London. Lizzie’s distaste for the proud Darcy eventually changes, however, as she discovers what kind of a man he truly is — loyal, trustworthy, and misunderstood. Besides, he’s the only man who can truly match her wit and skills as a warrior.
Director and screenwriter Burr Steers has taken Grahame-Smith’s version of Austen’s classic novel and has created a romp that’s incredibly entertaining and sharp. All of the elements of Austen’s societal sarcasm are still here, with the occasional zombie nuisance getting in the way. Even the zombies are refined, since victims don’t complete their full transformation until they’ve tasted human brains. At times, zombies approach humans and want to politely interact, situations that produce some of the best laughs from the film.
The casting is fantastic, and each character is more entertaining than the last. Lily James and Sam Riley are spot-on perfect; where Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy are huge characters shadowed by looming performances from earlier adaptations (Colin Firth, anyone?), James’s and Riley’s interactions lead us to simultaneously loathe and love the arrogance and tension between their characters. Elizabeth’s classic confrontation of Darcy for attempting to break apart Jane and Mr. Bingley is brilliantly staged here as a physical sparring match where wit and battle prowess are equally wielded as weapons.
However, the real gem of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is Matt Smith (“Terminator Genisys”) who plays Parson Collins (an inept and foolish man trying to marry any girl he can get close to) and steals the show more than once; he fully embodies the role, is the heart and soul of many comedic scenes, and he shines on-screen each and every time he appears.
The film isn’t particularly frightening though, but it’s not meant to be. It’s a sharp-witted, entertaining film that’s, tragically, in danger of not being seen. The trailer has done this movie no favors; what appears to be a ridiculous action film with dainty English girls carrying knives in their garters who steadily hack and slash the undead is actually a clever satire that’s incredibly funny and brilliantly acted.
I unfairly prejudged this one, and I’m very proud to admit I was wrong. Don’t make my mistake, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one not to miss.