If you enjoy reading “Pride and Prejudice” by Jane Austin, then I highly recommend you go see “Pride + Prejudice + Zombies.” Yes, I know that we hate when our beloved books are corrupted by modern storylines, but there are some redeeming qualities to this movie that make it worth the price of admission. I’m the first to admit that I don’t like the zombie genre and I loathe watching the television shows that are rife with wandering half dead corpses, but this movie is a little bit sweet and a little bit scary; it’s a surprisingly pleasant combination. And make sure you stay for the post credit scene!
**SPOILER ALERT: If you like surprises, stop here. Otherwise, I’m going to discuss all the details of the move 🙂 **
The movie is based on a book with the same name written by Seth Grahame-Smith. Grahame-Smith gives coauthor credit to Austin as much of her original story line is intact in his work. Just as in his book, you’ll see that all your favorite characters in the movie too and they are portrayed beautifully. I can’t say they are exactly as Jane Austin wrote them because the story line demands some modifications. Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) is now Colonel Darcy, dripping with prideful privilege but an adept zombie hunter who is ridding the countryside of their presence. Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) is a gentle, naive young man who makes a valiant effort to help Darcy in his quest to vanquish the zombie population, but his youth gets in his way. Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet (Lily James) is a strong young woman, prejudiced against the upper class and Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) still lacks social graces.
There were a few changes to the classic characters that went well beyond the descriptions by Austin. George Wickham (Jack Huston) is not just the irresponsible playboy in the original novel, but his character is darker and more sinister. The story line demands a proper villain and I’m glad Grahame-Smith let Wickham shine. Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey, Cersei Lannister from Game of Thrones) also undergoes a transformation. Instead of a tired old crone, she is a renown, battle tested zombie hunter with an eye patch. She still has blood ties to Darcy and her daughter Lady Anne (Bessie Cursons) is still a delicate, sickly young woman.
The movie opens with a house party in which Darcy arrives claiming he heard that, “someone has been bitten.” The wealthy guests either refuse to make eye contact or protest that it couldn’t be the case. Darcy explains that the symptoms are not always obvious early on and he removes a small bottle of house flies. The flies buzz around until they detect something dead, at which point they alight on the half dead guest and Darcy quickly dispatches him.
A narrator pops in to describe the events leading up to this zombie apocalypse to hurry the story line along. The Black Plague spreads across Europe and instead of causing death, it creates zombies. Of course the French get blamed for the disease. Idyllic country estates soon receive heavy fortifications with barbs and moats and young women and men go to Japan and China to learn the art of fighting. There seems to be no stop to the influx of new zombies and the world is a dark and dreary place.
The movie follows the familiar story line though they had to condense some parts to fit everything into an hour and 48 minutes. This adaptation is more similar to the Kiera Knightley film from 2005 than my favorite with Colin Firth from 1995. The Bennets are still excited for a new bachelor at Netherfield Park and they prepare for the community ball with corsets and concealed weaponry. There’s a great display of half-dressed young ladies that brushes with the idea of an adult themed film but never actually crosses the line. Bingley, his sister, and Colonel Darcy arrive and are treated with great curiosity before everyone returns to the festivities. As you would hope, Bingley locks in on Jane and Darcy’s rude comments about Lizzy send her hurtling out into the night air.
While Lizzy is steeling herself against the vile opinions of Darcy, she is surprised by Mrs. Featherstone (Dolly Wells) who tries to console her. Lizzy senses something is amiss and we see that the matron has begun the transformation process. Before Lizzy can reach for her weapons, Darcy appears and blows her head off.
Most of the interactions with zombies in this film occur in much the same way. A character finds themselves in an unguarded situation and someone steps in to save the day. Often I wondered why a smart woman or man would put themselves so foolishly in harm’s way, but then I guess it furthers the interactions between characters. There are many such moments of heroism and I swear I jumped out of my seat for each one. My apologies to the guy in front of me for all the popcorn I spilled on your head.
Despite all the ugly makeup and moaning souls, the movie is far less gory than it could have been. We do see some of the death blows to the zombies but there is a noticeable lack of blood flying around. While I appreciate a scary movie that doesn’t depend on gore to get my pulse racing, there are a couple of elements that seem off. When the Bennet sisters fight of the zombies who infiltrate the ball, they are wearing snow-white gloves that never seem to get dirty. Also, throughout the movie there’s never any blood on the faces or clothing of the characters. The discrepancy was just odd enough to stand out.
The movie continues on with classic events like Jane (Bella Heathcote) going to Netherfield for tea and ending up sick with a cold. Lizzy arrives to care for her sister and has a confrontation with Darcy and Caroline Bingley (Emma Greenwell). Bingley hosts a ball for the town and Parson Collins (Matt Smith) arrives seeking the hand of one of his cousins. Lizzy refuses the Parson and her friend Charlotte (Aisling Loftus) soon announces her engagement. Between all of this the zombie plot is intertwined quite nicely and doesn’t feel too forced.
The real divergence from Austin’s classic story line occurs with George Wickham finally appears in town with his regiment. Wickham takes Lizzy to his “secret place” and it immediately feels like a set up. Thankfully it’s less wicked than you initially think, rather Wickham has brought Lizzy to a rundown church called St. Lazarus. Inside we find half turned zombies who are being fed pig blood and brains during the sacrament. Wickham explains that those who never feed on human brains never fully turn and can be reasoned with. There is still an unsettled feeling Wickham manages to exude when he is on-screen; it’s as if his ominous characteristics are just below the surface.
Lizzy travels as chaperone with Charlotte to meet Lady Catherine now that she is to marry Collins. When they arrive we see with this new interpretation of Lady Catherine as a great zombie huntress. She has lost an eye in battle and wears a fetching black velvet eye patch that makes her character even more terrifying. Suddenly, Darcy arrives and surprises Lizzy. Soon after Wickham also appears and seeks support from Lady Catherine. He claims that if they can negotiate a peace treaty with the half turned zombies, the fully turned zombies will follow suit. Lady Catherine and Darcy find the idea comical and he is sent away.
That evening Lizzy is taking a midnight stroll about the gardens and Wickham appears out of the darkness. He begs her to run away with him but she refuses and Wickham leaves. In the morning Lizzy wakes to find that her friends have gone out and she is alone at the parsonage. Darcy soon arrives and, in classic Austin styling, asks for Lizzy’s hand in marriage while simultaneously disparaging her character. In the original novel, words are exchanged between them and then Darcy storms out. Here, however, Lizzy is made of sterner stuff and kicks Darcy in the stomach for being such a dolt. The two fight with one another which is at times both erotic and hilarious. Eventually Darcy gets the point and departs, leaving Lizzy confused and breathing heavily.
The movie returns to the classic plot with Darcy sending Lizzy a letter outlining his reasons for being upset with Wickham. In the meantime, Wickham runs away with Lydia and Lady Catherine arrives to challenge any engagement between Lizzy and Darcy that might exist. Of course, being the adept fighter she is, Lady Catherine ends up sparring with Lizzy but Lizzy holds fast and doesn’t give in. Mr. Bennet tries to leave to go find Lydia but Lizzy and Jane convince him to let them go instead. Lady Catherine takes the rest of the Bennet clan to her estate to wait for their return.
Zombies take over London in a surprisingly well coordinated attack. Darcy and Bingham, who had left the countryside to return to their homes in town, are now engaged in killing the half dead monsters. Jane and Lizzy arrive and explain that their sister Lydia is at St. Lazarus’ with Wickham. Darcy replies that St. Lazarus was razed to the ground and no one could have survived. As the sisters mourn, Darcy and Bingham plan a strategic retreat with the rest of the military. Darcy disappears and Lizzy realizes he lied about the church to prevent her from endangering herself while he has gone on a rescue mission.
Darcy arrives at the church to find Lydia chained up in a dungeon. Battle plans are on the wall and Lydia explains Wickham knew that Darcy would come in search of her to save the Bennet’s good name. It was Wickham who organized the zombie raid on London. Wickham arrives and tries to prevent Darcy and Lydia from leaving, but a horde of hungry zombies also arrive. It appears that Darcy put real brains in the sacrament wine and turned the lot of them.
Darcy and Lydia escape momentarily, and he sends Lydia off on horseback toward her sisters. Darcy and Wickham fight and it’s revealed that Wickham has been a half turned zombie all this time. Eventually Darcy gets the upper hand, Lizzy arrives and rescues him, and they all make it out as the military blows the last bridge into town and traps the zombies on the other side. The movie ends with the classic scene of Lizzy and Darcy and Jane and Bingham in a duel wedding ceremony. It’s a sweet scene devoid of any apocalypse nonsense and was a nice way to wrap up a somewhat gory and frightening story . . . unless you stay for the post credit scene.
I think the reason I enjoyed the movie so much was that the women of the film were finally given the ability to defend themselves. Gone were the simpering misses of the novel and here are women who still face similar social demands, but are not helpless to protect their family and themselves. The women are fierce in battle and give no quarter. For some it’ll seem ridiculous that a debutante still needs to marry a man to secure her financial future when she can slay zombies, but I can see that the author was trying to keep the essence of Austin alive in his story.
Darcy, though no Colin Firth, was still a sexy character to behold. He definitely underwent that delightful Austin transformation during the film and certainly showed more passion than in any other movie. His emotions ran wild and it was nice to see him given more rein to express his true feelings. You still get the sexy British accent that female fans demand and then there’s a hot, passionate kiss at the end of the film that’ll surely leave you squirming in your seat.
For all the positives, there were still a few elements that seemed off-putting. Wickham managed to keep his pristine human appearance up until the very end though he claimed he’d been a half turned zombie for some time. That claim seemed a little far fetched and I wish we had seen subtle changes in him over the course of the movie. Then there were the obvious issues with our heroines traveling alone and unprotected that didn’t seem right given the overarching theme of the move. Finally, I can’t believe I’m saying there wasn’t enough gore, but even after battles, the lack of blood spray or wounds from being hit were just strange. I guess I needed just a little blood and guts to feel like this movie fit into the horror genre.
Despite a few shortfalls I loved that the characters found a balance between trying to maintain normalcy and social order while also battling zombie hordes. In one moment the girls would be cleaning their weapons and practicing their hand to hand combat skills, and the next they’d be chasing one another and giggling like young ladies should. It is just the strangest mashup of genres and I can’t decide if this movie was supposed to be a comedy or a horror movie, because it had elements of both. Maybe it is just a romantic zombie flick and we just leave it at that. However you categorize it, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an entertaining way to spend a few hours so long as you don’t try to look for profound themes or unique revelations. And if you’re a scaredy cat like me, get someone else to hold your popcorn.
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