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No one will take Pride and Prejudice and Zombies seriously, so it’s good the movie itself doesn’t. From start to finish, it is hilarious and over the top, but it also preserves all the main elements of Jane Austen’s classic novel, with a few undead twists. Fans of the book and newcomers alike will enjoy this witty romp.
The book Pride and Prejudice begins, “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife.” So its comedic spin-off starts. “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” This sets the tone for the film—true to the book, but zombie-fied.
Enter the accomplished and terrifying zombie hunter, Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent 2014). Nineteenth century England has been suffering from a “virulent and abominable plague,” which animates the dead and bequeaths unto them an irrepressible passion—for human brains. After a long period of seeming victory, English nobles leave the fortress city of London to reinhabit the plains.
A Mr. Bennett (Charles Dance, perhaps best known as Game of Thrones’ Tywin Lannister) has moved into the country, and raises five warrior daughters. His wife fears that, unmarried, they will inherit nothing. “Their immediate survival is my foremost concern,” he replies.
Zombies Add to the Story
(Warning: Spoilers—for you poor souls unacquainted with Pride and Prejudice)
Ironically, zombies do not detract from the story of Pride and Prejudice. Rather, they add hilarious dimensions. When the undead show up at a ball, militant warrior music plays as five sisters in gorgeous dresses march gracefully, pulling daggers from their skirts, and slicing zombie heads in a warrior dance. As Mr. Darcy notes, “her arms are surprisingly muscular, but not unfeminine.”
The main protagonist, Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James, Cinderella 2015), values her warrior training highly, and this adds yet another reason for her to reject the proposal of the boorish Mr. Collins (Matt Smith, Dr. Who 2005), who adds that “you will have to retire your warrior skills, of course.”
The zombies also add further meaning to the genius and evil of the dastardly Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston, American Hustle 2013). In the classic story, Wickham seems to be a hero but turns out to be a villain. This doesn’t change in the film, and Wickham’s relation to the undead makes the zombie plotline that much more compelling.
The menacing Mr. Darcy, on the other hand, almost kills Elizabeth’s sister Jane, fearing that she is infected and will become a zombie. As in the novel, Darcy tries to separate Jane from his friend Mr. Bingley, and Elizabeth thinks Darcy stole Mr. Wickham’s inheritance. She learns that Darcy has been acting virtuously all along, but it is too late—he has already gone to fight in the deadly siege of London.
Only their love can save the day and stave off the zombie apocalypse—and that love is stronger than death (or should I say un-death?).
Zombies or No Zombies, This is True to The Book
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies not only keeps the general story of the classic novel—it preserves the exact dialogue in several scenes, but loads them with sword fights and karate. The dialogue in classic scenes follows the book entirely, with little to no mention of zombies, swords, death, or dismemberment added.
The crux of Pride and Prejudice—Elizabeth looking down on Darcy as both proud and pre-judging, only to find that it was she herself in that role—remains intact. Her cutting rejection of him, and her subsequent decision to chase him down and declare her love still form the central parts of the story, and remain quite moving. Sure, there’s a brain here or there, but this is, above all else, Pride and Prejudice.
It’s Just a Good Movie
Besides all this—and this is something I truly did not expect to write—Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is quite simply a good movie. It has an intriguing plot, compelling characters, great cinematic moments, and an acceptable score. Lily James makes a great headstrong Elizabeth, and Sam Riley a mysterious and convincing Darcy.
Each member of the cast performs quite admirably, however. Matt Smith plays a wonderfully disgusting Mr. Collins. Lena Headey’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh is the largest character deviation from the books. She keeps the strong, commanding presence, but presents a younger and less stately version of the character. She and Charles Dance earned fame as members of the powerful Lannister family on Game of Thrones, and both are in full force here. A Lannister plays his parts.
For a zombie movie, this film is remarkably reserved. There is some blood, gore, and decaying flesh, but only sporadically and never shown in the gruesome excess one would associate with the undead. This is no Walking Dead or zombie slasher film. The centerpiece is humor, with romance and heroism playing strong secondary roles.
Fans of the original story will certainly enjoy the parody and the plethora of inside jokes—there are even a few allusions to the Colin Firth movie. But that doesn’t mean comparative novices won’t have a good time—the movie itself is hilarious. It may even have potential to broaden the Jane Austen fan base.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is no Oscar-bait, and it is no classic. But it does pay surpassing homage to a great work of literature, with a unique and enjoyable flair. It is great entertainment and good for quite a few laughs.