When the Zombie Apocalypse comes, there will be one person not rising from the grave. That would be Jane Austen, because she will be too busy rolling in it – with laughter. There is no way this should have worked, either as a book or a movie, but somehow it has, and at least where the movie is concerned, it actually exceeded expectations (admittedly, they were pretty low going into it). Director and screenplay writer Burr Steer gives the nerdcore generation a Pride and Prejudice they can relate to.
Keeping the basic plot intact while mixing it with a zombie plague, Steer gives us lush scenery, beautiful costuming, and makes outrageous characters even more outrageous. His cast is superb – Lily James is both beautiful and menacing as Elizabeth Bennet; Darcy is a modern fangirl’s dream – dark and broody, with emo hair, a long black leather trench coat, and a katana. I mean, who doesn’t love a tall, dark and snarky man in leather, carrying a sword? (Watching my 22-year-old daughter gush over Sam Riley, the answer to that is anyone over 40. Please give me back Colin Firth.)
The film starts off a bit clunky, as the beginning of the movie uses lines from the book verbatim, and it does not quite blend with the action, which begins almost at once. We see the Bennet sisters dressing for a country dance while arming themselves for war, in an iconic scene shown in most of the film’s trailers. It doesn’t lose any of its punch; it’s fun to see the young ladies decimate a horde of zombies whilst strutting through the ballroom waving lots (and lots) of sharp pointy objects. During the mayhem, the Bennets meet the arrogant Darcy (Riley) and Mr. Bingley (a puppy eyed Douglas Booth). Both men know the Bennet girls are a breed of women apart and thus does the romantic plot follow the book. But it’s the zombie twist that gives the movie its zing, and the pacing picks up as more and more action sequences occur and all pretence of “literature” is dropped.
The zombies of the film are of a different breed, refreshingly so – these retain some of their mortality and intelligence, only deteriorating with every brain they eat. It makes them almost sympathetic. Almost. There’s still some heavy brain chomping action going on, and they make a couple of very good jump scenes.
The casting is wonderful, with Bella Heathcote as a radiant Jane, Sally Phillips as the ditzy, money obsessed, clueless Mrs. Bennet. Lena Headly, taking a break from Game of Thrones, is Lady Catherine, who, while just sitting in her receiving chair, manages to be menacing as the most feared zombie killer of all time. She rocks the eye patch (not a fashion statement) and the hairstyle from no time period known to real people. Matt Smith is perfectly goofy as the awkward Parson Collins. And Wickham (played well by Jack Huston), the villain in the book, manages to be devilishly handsome and perfectly reasonable. His scenes with Elizabeth are wonderful.
Pay attention to all of the visuals; there are little funny easter eggs throughout the film, and a couple of homoerotic references in regards to Darcy (Steer knows who his audience is; let the shipping begin!) Again, the costumes are drool worthy (cosplay here we come), there’s just enough gore to satisfy the genre requirement but doesn’t go overboard, making this an ideal film to take preteens to as it seems this may be the only version of Pride and Prejudice they may encounter. (Shame, shame public education).
As for us older Austinites, it’s fun to relax into what is really a pretty silly (but well done silly) movie. I’m not sure if Jane would approve but I give it a wink and a nod, and a unreluctant thumbs up.