Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Posted by Joel Copling on February 4, 2016

"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" suffers from the same issue that plagued its source material. That source is a satirical version of Jane Austen's "Pride and Prejudice" by Seth Grahame-Smith that (You guessed it) intruded upon the film's study of a strong, independent woman of the Victorian era as she attempts to avoid the trap of "needing a man" with sequences and junk narrative DNA involving the undead. Conceptually, the novel was a mixed bag. On one hand, the stuff with the zombies at least fit into the gaps created by Grahame-Smith. On the other hand (and not to sound like a curmudgeon), the gaps were often fundamental to the conflict of the original story and to the motivations of the two central characters. Grahame-Smith's experiment was, then, more akin to a joke.

And the joke isn't all that funny, either. This film adaptation, penned for the screen and helmed by Burr Steers, is also conflicted by whether it is a satire of Austen's social commentary by virtue of throwing a sci-fi element into the mix or a serious examination of its themes with some fun zombie action on the side. Viewing it as the former will only get one so far, but here, at least, are Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James), the aforementioned, Victorian-era woman previously so strong and independent, and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), who is actually a colonel with the British military and a renowned hunter of the undead (We see his skilled work in an opening sequence that certainly takes a unique approach to the point-of-view shot set-up), and over there is the series of sequences in which he attempts to woo her.

The problem is that there's something off here, even without reckoning the fantastical into the equation, and it is evident when the dialogue between Elizabeth and Darcy, so rife with romantic tension in Austen's text and previous cinematic incarnations of it, shifts from curt verbal sparring to a combative sort. It's odd because it seems to be only an excuse to see Elizabeth, the woman, draw a weapon and prove herself as adept as Darcy, the man, in a fight. Tha's a simplification of the Elizabeth Bennet character: Formerly, she was a woman of agency and identity, with complex ideas in a simplistic era. Here, she is merely a woman to be courted against her will.

She is also a zombie warrior, born into a family whose patriarch and matriarch (played by Charles Dance and Sally Phillips) have trained Elizabeth and her sisters (played by Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, and Suki Waterhouse) to ward off the beasties that are the byproducts of a mass epidemic of terrible power. Blood and, yes, brains are not spared during the action sequences, which show a lot of flair (with the exception of a superfluous, muddily shot swordfight). The actors are lost to material that doesn't quite suit the screenplay's needs, although Riley is quite good at being a solid Mr. Darcy and Matt Smith has a lot of fun as hopeless romantic Parson Collins. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is generally skillful and manages some cleverness where the novel fell short, but it still only feels like a warm-up.

Film Information

Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), Sam Riley (Mr. Darcy), Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet), Ellie Bamber (Lydia Bennet), Millie Brady (Mary Bennet), Suki Waterhouse (Kitty Bennet), Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley), Sally Phillips (Mrs. Bennet), Charles Dance (Mr. Bennet), Jack Huston (George Wickham), Lena Headey (Lady Catherine de Bourgh), Matt Smith (Parson Collins), Emma Greenwell (Caroline Bingley).

Directed and written by Burr Steers, based on the Quirk Books novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith.

Rated PG-13 (zombie violence, action, brief suggestive material).

108 minutes.

Released on February 5, 2016.