Film Review – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
I love Jane Austen. I will see every single television and film adaptation of her books the rest of my life, without question. Emma Thompson’s Sense & Sensibility and Joe Wright’s Pride & Prejudice are the current favorites. When you hear someone has a taken a Jane Austen novel and made it into a tongue and cheek zombie book, well, okay then. The film adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies had quite a few bumps in the road to eventual fruition. In 2009, David O. Russell was originally attached to direct it with Natalie Portman to star. That obviously did not happen, and the Wikipedia page for the film documents the long saga to make this film adaptation.
Burr Steers (17 Again) re-wrote the screenplay and directed Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. It follows the general structure and story of Pride & Prejudice with a back story of zombies being a constant threat of 1700-1800’s England. Because of this fictitious reality that the people live in, those families that were well-off enough would send their children to train to defend themselves in the martial arts in Japan or China. The decision to train in Japan or China seems tied with how rich your family is with the richer going to Japan.
The Bennet family is the same as the one in the original story; Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) and Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) have five daughters, Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), and Mary (Millie Brady). They are all single and Mrs. Bennet is on the prowl for suitable and wealthy gentlemen for them all. One such wealthy man, Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), buys Netherfield Hall and brings his sisters and friend, Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) along. At the first local dance, Mr. Bingley becomes attached to Jane and Mr. Darcy first lays eyes on Elizabeth. The party is spoiled by a pack of zombies, of course, but the ensuing story focuses on the unlikely couple of Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy.
The biggest issue I had with this film is that it does not stay true to the characters’ original qualities and emotions. The Elizabeth Bennet between the original and the zombie flick are not the same. She did not cry over Mr. Darcy’s first reaction to her, yet this is what happens in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. They took a strong, female character and made her into exactly the opposite of everything she stands for. The same can be said for Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy, but in this case, it was hard to read anything off his performance. He is more headstrong about killing zombies and preventing their spread to have any other emotions and interests in other things.
The expansion of Mr. Wickham’s (Jack Huston) character is interesting. He becomes a supporter of zombies that have not fully turned yet i.e. those that have not eaten human brains. The change from a philanderer and money-hungry suitor into something possibly more honorable is unexpected. The film also changes Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey) from an old, wealthy patron into a zombie killer with the same qualities of Selene in Underworld.
The one saving grace of the entire film is Matt Smith as Mr. Collins. Every time he is on screen, he brings the laughs. Minus the zombies, I would love to see him in another Pride & Prejudice adaptation. His obsession with Lady Catherine, his eagerness to marry Elizabeth, his “lightness of foot” and his impossibility of reading a room is all there. He is hysterical and should be cast in worthy comedy immediately.
While Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a unique way to take a well-known novel and make it new again, you must keep the original characters’ motivations and emotions intact. It can’t be Pride & Prejudice without an Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy that echo the original. This is my major qualm with the film. It is not a great film to begin with, but does have some great elements like Matt Smith and Lena Headey’s characters, and the way the history of the zombie infestation is presented. The film would have been more enjoyable without attempting to keep true to the Pride & Prejudice story. Yes, it is cool to see knife wielding women in empire waist dresses kick some zombie ass, but there has to be some substance behind it.