I was slightly surprised when the first trailer for Pride and Prejudice and Zombies appeared late last year. While I had heard about the novel, it always seemed to be a little too cultish to make a big screen appearance, even if it was bringing together two of the current trends for period drama and zombie apocalypse movies.
I was even more surprised to see that the film had such a strong cast, with Lily James, hot off her massive Cinderella success, and Lena Headey and Charles Dance, recently seen in HBO’s Game of Thrones…both of which also happen to be book-to-screen adaptations too.
While I do enjoy a good Zombie movie and the occasional period drama, I was somewhat curious, and ever so slightly dubious, as to whether Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would match up with not only the success of the book, but also the success of recent cinematic offerings in both of those genres…
Well, while the plot seems pretty self-explanatory from the title, here is the official synopsis and trailer:
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is a fresh twist on Jane Austen’s widely celebrated novel. A mysterious plague has fallen upon 19th century England, the land is overrun with the undead and feisty heroine Elizabeth Bennet is a master of martial arts and weaponry. Casting aside personal and social prejudices, Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy must unite on the blood-soaked battlefield to rid the country of the zombie menace and discover their true love for one another.
It is far from perfect but Pride and Prejudice and Zombies manages to be a perfectly decent film without ever quite being as good as it could be.
While it has its faults (we’ll come to those in a bit) there are also a number of positives, the biggest of which is probably the performances of Lily James, Matt Smith and Charles Dance.
James puts in a remarkably engaging performance as Elizabeth Bennett, bringing an antagonistic strength to the role, yet with moments of warmth and fragility that makes her both relatable and enjoyable to watch. She portrays a woman of inner and outer strength but with an inner fragility while also appearing to believably hold her own in the films fight scenes. She evokes empathy from the audience in a way that most other characters in the film do not, and in so doing, encourages us to genuinely care about her fate and her happiness – something I never honestly thought I would say about a film that inserts zombies into Austen’s Regency.
Dance is equally engaging during his limited screen time as Mr Bennet, the long-suffering husband to the increasingly annoying Mrs Bennet, and doting father to this cadre of warrior daughters, but then he is Charles Dance, so that is really to be expected.
Matt Smith also puts in a great performance as Parson Collins. Bringing a comedic edge to every scene he is in and adding to what is otherwise a largely mirthless film, he drives the film through some of the slower scenes and plot development scenarios.
The score gives some genuine gravitas and emotion to some of the scenes – especially between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy – but isn’t an entirely successful accompaniment. Some of the music that complements the higher tempo actions scenes having a rather generic feel to them and while it worked well enough to not distract from the onscreen events, it did so without ever really standing out in the same way that the Elizabeth/Darcy theme did.
I was generally impressed with the costumes and the decision of the filmmakers to maintain period dress for most of the film. It helped to maintain the idea of this being a period film and complimented the use of some of Austen’s dialogue well, but was not without the odd misstep. The most obvious of which happened during an early scene when the Bennet sisters were preparing for the first major outing of the film. During the preparation we are greeted with an entirely gratuitous lingering shot of the sisters’ legs while they sheathed knives in their garters. At this point I was slightly worried that the film would descend into the gratuitous mess that is Zack Snyder’s Sucker Punch. Thankfully, unlike Snyder, these filmmakers managed to avoid a similar fate, but that only made the scene stand out as entirely unnecessary.
While many of the film’s characters remain in period dress throughout, Mr Darcy seems to have recycled the long leather coats from the Matrix. While I understand that it is being used to identify Darcy as the standout zombie killer of the age, and add a flourish to his killing sprees, it is in stark contrast to the corseted apparel of the Bennet sisters et al and as such, just seems entirely out of place.
But costuming issues are relatively minor issues compared to the biggest problem I have with the film – its distinct lack of adherence to zombie lore. Near the beginning, the film seems to establish the now usual blow to the head or decapitation as the only way to guarantee death to zombies. And yet in the first main set-piece in which the Bennet sisters go into full zombie slaughter mode, they seem to forget this altogether, slashing higher, low and everywhere in between.
And it gets worse as the film progresses. These zombies can run, talk and don’t even have an overwhelming desire to eat human brains. It pretty much forgets all the basics of zombie film lore. While I know that I am usually the first person to criticise a film for resorting to cliché and tropes, these are not basic plot devices, they are the basics of what makes a zombie a zombie! Having zombies who can talk and function almost like normal people instead of the reanimated dead, may make for a slightly more stylised film and allow you to develop some plot twists, it does so at the cost of many of the staples of not only this Zombie film, but cinematic zombie-lore in general.
It also goes some way to make the zombie scenes some of the least enjoyable periods in the film. The interactions between the Bennet sisters, and their potential betrothed are by far the more engaging scenes, with the interactions between Elizabeth Bennet and Mr Darcy in particular remaining the visual and emotional highlights.
Being a forced marriage of the period drama and comedy zombie genres, the film doesn’t quite reach the same standards as offerings in either such as Shaun of the Dead, Zombieland or Sense and Sensibility. But it does provide an interesting take on the Pride and Prejudice story, with some good lead performances, some genuinely engaging and emotional scenes, along with some, albeit occasionally uninspiring action scenes. It is not without faults, but it is a decent film with some strong performances and pleasingly strong female roles.
Source: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies