45% Pride and 45% Prejudice and 10% Zombies
In 2004 Simon Pegg, Nick Frost and Edgar Wright created a new hybrid genre called Zombie-Romantic-Comedy (ZomRomCom) with Shaun of the Dead. In 2007 an American author took this one step further and wrote a parody novel of Jane Austen’s classic Pride and Prejudice by adding in zombies. Nearly 10 years later, after years of development hell (heh, that term has rarely been so apt) we have the film adaptation. It may not be the most haunting (heh) Austen adaptation, nor will it give others a run for their money (heh, running from zombies) but it is more than entertaining and worth a watch. My main criticism, as you may have noticed from the subtitle is that the zombies make up a small proportion of the film, a too small proportion to really make the most of the high concept.
It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains. – Elizabeth Bennett. In a world that has been overrun by zombies for almost a hundred years, young women have more than enough to worry about than finding a husband. At least that is what Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) thinks, and her four sisters agree to varying extents. Their mother Mrs Bennett (Sally Phillips), however, believes otherwise. Mr Bennett (Charles Dance) disagrees with his wife wholeheartedly, which is why he had his girls spend much of their childhood in China, training in the arts of killing zombies, moulding them into fearsome zombie-killing army. When Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) reopens a residence nearby, he hosts an introductory ball to which the Bennetts are invited. It’s there that Elizabeth meets Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) , a haughty monster-hunter renowned and feared for his zombie-killing skills. When the ball is invaded by zombies the Bennett sisters dazzle Darcy and Bingley with their skills, affection and admiration begins. But will the course of love ever run smooth whilst the undead stalk the Earth?
Overall, the film really succeeds for the first fifteen minutes. The concept feels fresh and funny, the zombie/romance balance is level (something I fear I will never get to write again…) and it’s a pleasurable novelty to see the key events of Austen’s novel enhanced by zombie tropes. There’s also a truly beautiful animated story-book style opening sequence, voiced by the legend that is Charles Dance, that informs us of how the zombies came to be. Unfortunately, the remaining 80-odd minutes of the film are not as pleasurable. The ZomRom balance (I’m going to copyright that phrase) does not really warrant the ‘and’ of the title. Maybe it should be Pride and Prejudice and a few zombies and lots of talking about zombies (though perhaps that is not as catchy). When the zombies are actually on-screen it provides some of the best moments, producing a couple of jumps and a fair few laughs. But there is too much talking about strategies for dealing with zombies as opposed to fighting them.
However, it’s not all bad. The cast for this film is so good, and so well suited for their roles, that you actually wish this was just a straight-forward adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. Lily James, who shone in War & Peace last year’s Cinderella, is superb as a feisty and witty Elizabeth. She manages to make Elizabeth’s progression into a trained warrior seem almost plausible. She has great chemistry with Sam Riley’s Darcy, providing a degree of sexual tension previously unseen in adaptations of this work. Austen would have approved I suspect. However, as Parson Collins, Matt Smith steals every scene he is in. It’s great to see Smith in another comedic role (aside from his marmite take as The Doctor). Here his timing is brilliant and his ability to make a relatively small role stand out speaks volumes about his ability. Another wonderful surprise is Lena Headey as the one-eyed-eye-patch-wearing Lady Catherine de Bourgh, who snarls her way through her too-few-scenes.
To conclude, this is a more than fine way to while away two hours. The cast is superb, the script has enough charm, and the novelty just great enough to entertain. Whilst easy to bemoan the minimal zombie presence, this is an excellent attempt at a twist on a classic with a fantastic cast who prevent it from being a forgettable B-movie.
Action, romance and zombies. Something for everyone with this film.