FILM REVIEW – PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES. With Lily James, Sam Riley, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Matt Smith. Written and directed by Burr Steers. Rated PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material. 108 minutes.
You know how some movies have generic titles that don’t tell you anything as to what the film’s going to be about? Well, that’s not the case here. PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES tells you exactly what it’s going to be about. Anyone complaining about this being a 19th century comedy of manners or featuring brain-eating zombies infesting England isn’t paying attention.
In 2009, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” was published and became an unexpected hit. Billed as being authored “by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith” it took Austen’s classic 1813 novel which has been adapted for film and television many time and expanded it. Keeping most of Austen’s text it embellished it by the introduction of zombies. Thus Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. D’Arcy (Sam Riley) are not merely headstrong people who slowly come to realize they are meant for each other, but they are also trained warriors against the zombie infestation plaguing Britain.
If you saw “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter,” based on another of Grahame-Smith’s books, you’ll get the idea of what to expect: a mixture of authentic material crossed with a horror movie. It’s a one-joke idea and if you don’t find the very concept amusing then you may as well give it a pass. Likewise if you’re unfamiliar with “Pride and Prejudice” you might read the original book or see one of the many adaptations before seeing this so that you’ll know what’s being sent up here.
The Bennett family consists of five daughter whose mother (Sally Phillips) wants to see them settled with wealthy husbands but whose father (Charles Dance) is more concerned with them not marrying clods like Parson Collins (Matt Smith). The film preserves Mr. Bennet’s perfect line when he gives Elizabeth his opinion of such a match.
Then there are the zombies. As the Bennets are comforable but not upper class, the daughters were trained in Chinese martial arts rather than Japanese ninja warrior techniques. This leads not only to some bizarre fight scenes with the zombies, but to an argument between Elizabeth and D’Arcy that wrecks most of a room. The imperious Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey) is now not only D’Arcy’s aunt, but a superior warrior with an eyepatch… who has the various characters in for tea.
It is goofy fun, and fans of the original will be impressed by just how much of Austen is preserved. The sweet romance between Jane Bennett (Bella Heathcote) and Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) is a charming counterpoint to the Elizabeth/D’Arcy story, while the caddish George Wickham (Jack Huston) has a secret related to the zombies. The whole affair is played straight, including a twist on Austen’s opening line which becomes, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.”
The book spawned a prequel and a sequel, but although “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is entertaining enough for those who get the joke, one helping should be more than enough.•••
Daniel M. Kimmel is a veteran movie critic and author of a host of film-related books. His most recent book is “Shh! It’s a Secret: a novel about Aliens, Hollywood and the Bartender’s Guide.” He lives in Somerville, Massachusetts.