Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Movie Review
Written by Joel Harley
Released by LionsGate Home Entertainment
Written and Directed by Burr Steers
2016, 108 minutes, Rated 15 (UK)
DVD released on June 27th 2016
Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet
Sam Riley as Fitwilliam Darcy
Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet
Millie Brady as Mary Bennet
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a piece of literature in possession of a healthy fanbase must be in want of a cinematic adaptation. Or something along those lines. Seth Grahame-Smith’s three-quarters of a novel gets the treatment in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, dragging with it the lumps of Jane Austen that he hijacked.
That subtle prejudice you may sense in my tone there being representative of a deep dislike of the movie’s source material and subsequent rip-offs. One of the most insufferable books I have ever read, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is smug, arch and lazy, enlivened only by the morbid illustrations and occasional gore, and not a reading experience I ever care to repeat (no Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters then, or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). Full disclaimer: I also dislike Jane Austen’s original book, an admission for which I am fully aware that I should be stripped of my English Literature degree and exiled from the country.
It does my pride no favours, then, to admit that the movie adaptation of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t half bad. The story is about what you’d expect, following the plot of the book(s) accurately enough through a series of charming dances and trips to the countryside where Elizabeth Bennet and Fitzwilliam Darcy pursue their tentative, volatile romance. This time, with zombies.
It’s a source material which lends itself well to adaptation, not requiring the reader to put up with either Jane Austen’s original prose (it’s a classic, I know, I know) or Grahame-Smith’s annoying additions. By virtue of being a screen adaptation, this one gets to bypass what didn’t work about the book (it’s just Pride and Prejudice again, with roughly fifteen to twenty percent crap about zombies) and concentrate on making it likeable and original.
This, writer and director Burr Steers achieves by packing his film full of charismatic, respectable actresses and actors such as Lily James, Lena Headey, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance and Matt Smith. Everyone is clearly having fun here, and that elevates both source materials. Sam Riley isn’t your traditional Mister Darcy, but he does a great job once the audience has been given time to adjust to the lack of Colin Firth, Matthew Macfadyen and topless bathing. Funny and feisty, Lily James is a strong lead, and together, the pair actually made me care about the Bennet/Darcy romance for the first time in the history of me and Pride and Prejudice. Brief as their presences are, Dance and Headey are fun, while Jack Huston is enjoyably slimy as Darcy’s dashing arch-rival.
It’s Matt Smith who steals the show, though, as bumbling pastor/cousin Mr Collins, getting the film its biggest laughs in a story that’s largely told with a straight face. He's a joy to watch, livening up the film just as it threatens to get a bit too dull for comfort. For sadly, it’s the ‘and zombies’ element of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies which works least of all, playing out largely as you’d expect it to. Zombies are chopped up, bosoms heave, and everyone is married at the end; it fancies itself as subversive, but there are no real surprises to be found here. The only thing it really adds is the idea that the zombies start out relatively human, only becoming more monstrous once they give in to their brain-eating inclinations.
Surfing by on charm, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a pleasant surprise. What could have been an insufferable chore is instead given grace and likeability by a charming, fun cast and writing which manages the tone well. It could have gone terribly wrong but in this case, good sense and sensibility prevails.