Let’s start by saying it’s really hard to take a film, or book, with this one’s title too seriously. Purists of Regency Era literature are probably crying that the venerable Jane Austin must be rolling in her grave over what has been made of her masterpiece. They’d be wrong, because not only does this film steadfastly refuse to take itself too seriously but I think Miss Austin had a sense of humor and no small amount of courage in breaking stodgy rules. After all, as a woman she was bound by the conventions of her day not to be a novelist, the first editions of “Pride & Prejudice” were published under a masculine pseudonym. So, ha! Bring on the undead, the Bennet girls can handle them!
From the first frame of this picture my expectations were well and truly exceeded. Far from being a retread of the “old story” with a zombie apocalypse tossed in, this is a strong and original re-imagining of the English Lit. 101 syllabus standard. Apparently, years prior to the Bennet sisters’ search for suitable husbands, a zombie virus was imported into Britain from one of its colonies. The noble island kingdom has been at war with the undead ever since. London is isolated behind a wall, and a great moat. The children of the wealthy (like Messrs. Darcy and Bingley) study the Japanese martial arts, and of course they look down on the not-so-wealthy (the Bennett girls) who studied under the Chinese Shao-Lin. While gentile society keeps up appearances with whist parties and grand balls, it is not too uncommon to have a zombie bloodbath break out, if needs be. Almost surprisingly, this concept not only works, but works curiously well, becoming Jane Austin’s “The Walking Dead”.
The cast is a respectable mix of promising newcomers as well as accomplished veterans. Relative unknowns Lily James and Sam Riley play Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. (Col.) Darcy with chemistry and agility. The reasonably esteemed Charles Dance appears as Mr. Bennet and the young but already consummate Jack Huston portrays the piece’s villain, the ne’re do well George Wickham. Even Matt Smith of Doctor Who fame – I like Doctor Who, Doctor Who is cool – shows up to add unfettered comic relief as a clownish Parson Collins.
Likewise, I have no complaints when it comes to this film’s production values. The costumes, photography and blood patterns are all of top quality befitting a classical piece with carnage. No $100M+ marvel, this film’s relatively meager budget of $28M aptly managed to deliver the goods.
I highly recommend “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” not only for its strange humor and overall quality, but also for this film’s incredible imagination. Admittedly a popcorn film, to be watched and enjoyed but not thought about too much, and that’s okay, cinema is entertainment. A quick confession should sum things up nicely: I resisted the whole zombie fad thing, until I became hooked on “The Walking Dead”. In recent months I wasn’t sure if the zombie genre had run its course after a few solid years in popular culture. Frankly, I half expected this film to be to zombies what “Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein” was to the Universal monster troupe, i.e. the last nail in the coffin. This film was not that, but very possibly a healthy infusion of new blood – the period zombie film. I hope they make more.
P.S. Don’t be too quick to get up out of your seat at the end, wait for it...