Between film, television, and web series, there have been nine iterations of Jane Austen’s most famous work; Pride and Prejudice. Upon seeing PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES amid a lecture hall filled with college students, who are the perfect target audience for this film, I feared for modern civilization. I feared that we have reached the nadir of western culture where we can no longer introduce classic literature to people solely because it is glorious and worthwhile in and of itself, but can now only be digested if is ‘enhanced’ with CGI, vampires, automatic war-grade munitions or…zombies. When I was able to snap myself out being a probably-too-educated-New-York-raised-person-of-a-certain-age-cynic, I realized that PPZ (I will now refer to its initials for economy of keyboard motion) is an evolution, a 21st century spin and a hell of a good time.
PPZ maintains the delicious nature of Austen’s original work with all its elegant, irresistible societal and sexual tension, but adds an entirely new component – the inevitable zombie apocalypse, which by providing both genders the means and training to fight the zombies, alters womens’ place in society better than any other metaphor I can think of. Dropping us immediately into the action at high speed from the opening frame, we know that PPZ will move us along with just the right combination of sauciness, gore and wit. Sam Riley, as Darcy, appears up front with a palpable sense of urgency, a dark wisdom and a floor length leather overcoat that is more Neo of THE MATRIX than King George. The fantastic title sequence which is wonderfully designed and informative tells the story of the zombie war and how England has been ravaged because of the war against the undead.
As PPZ advances we are introduced to the 5 Bennet daughters and Mr. & Mrs Bennet played respectively by the wonderful Charles Dance (THE IMITATION GAME, GAME OF THRONES) and the spirited and appropriate Sally Phillips who figured largely in BRIDGET JONES’S DIARY, yet one of the many takes on Pride and Prejudice. Sticking faithfully to its original source, Jane Bennet is played by the breathtakingly stunning Bella Heathcote and Elizabeth Bennet is brought to her insouciant best by Lily James. The catch in this version is that needing to defend oneself against the ever-present threat of zombie annihilation, British citizens have taken to training themselves in Asian martial arts. The wealthy study the Japanese forms such as akido, jujitsu and karate, while those of more humble means take up the Chinese arts of kung fu and sanshou. Needless to say, the Bennet girls are masterful practitioners of the Chinese battle arts and their fight choreography is both beautiful and menacing. With a playful sexiness reminiscent of earlier bawdy British films like TOM JONES (1963) watching the sisters prepare for battle is guaranteed to titillate a good 50% of the audience, and could single-handedly revive the market for satin garters.
On a more serious note, beyond providing a cool excuse to decapitate, roundhouse kick and use knives and hatchets, the Bennet girls’ martial arts skills in PPZ gives them a previously nonexistent equality to the men of the 19th century: If the women do not necessarily “need” the men to protect them then the equation for marriage shifts. A recurrent theme in the film is whether the Benet girls will give up their martial arts practice once she marries. Needless to say this is not part of Elizabeth Bennet’s plan and thus becomes an important and amusing ingredient in the intellectual and combat sparring between she and Darcy. James’ Elizabeth is a woman of substance and skill who never loses her innate femininity, and Riley has the perfect sulky severity necessary for Darcy. John Huston is a somewhat pallid Wickham but comes to life in the role at the end. Notable is Matt Smith’s turn as Mr. Collins, the twitchy, fatuous sycophant, ever in pursuit of securing a Bennet daughter. Smith is hilarious and brings Collins right to edge of ridiculous without making him a pathetic fool. The film is rich in texture and scenery and uses graphic elements wisely to cover narrative ground. The cinematography is particularly distinct during a slaughter – it is frequently shot from the perspective of he or she being killed. PPZ is funny, legitimately and playfully funny, and is a film filled with beautiful clothes, even more beautiful people, fabulously decomposing hoards, copious amounts of high velocity blood and flesh, and some good laughs. All of that is certainly something to relish.(3.5 / 5)
Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Matt Smith, Douglas Booth, Jack Huston, Charles Dance, Lena Headey
Running Time: 108 minutes
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Movie Review