A film review by Craig J. Koban February 14, 2016


2016, PG-13, 108 mins.


Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet  /  Lena Headey as Lady Catherine de Bourgh  /  Matt Smith as Mr. Collins  /  Douglas Booth as Mr. Bingley  /  Aisling Loftus as Charlotte Lucas  /  Jack Huston as Mr. Wickham  /  Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy  /  Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet  /  Emma Greenwell as Caroline Bingley  /  Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet  /  Suki Waterhouse as Kitty Bennet  /  Ellie Bamber as Lydia Bennet  /  Hermione Corfield as Cassandra Featherstone  /  Millie Brady as Mary Bennet  /  Sally Phillips as Mrs. Bennet  /  Dolly Wells as Mrs. Featherstone  /  Jess Radomska as Annabelle Netherfield  /  Ryan Oliva as Wilhelm  /  Morfydd Clark as Georgina  /  Pooky Quesnel as Aunt Phillips  /  Janet Henfrey as Dowager

Written and directed by Burr Steers  /  Based on the book by Seth Grahame-Smith

If you overlook its beyond obvious one-joke premise, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND – yes – ZOMBIES is a film that is pretty damn faithful to the essence and spirit of Jane Austen’s beloved and classic novel…while throwing in hordes of the undead and copious amounts or gravity defying martial arts and all-out gory mayhem.  

I know what you're thinking...huh?

The movie is adapted from the novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith (whom previously penned ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, also given big screen treatment), which tells an alternate universe take on Austen’s legendary Victorian era characters and settings.  Like ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER, this film walks an awkwardly delicate high wire act between all out campy absurdity and taking itself as seriously as a heart attack.  Thankfully, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES finds a tonal range in-between both.  That, and it unpretentiously knows what kind of film it is and never apologizes for it. 

Sprinkling in zombie bloodshed amidst a period-specific romance story (and one that’s as well known and cherished as it is) is not an easy feat to pull off, but director Burr Steers manages to remain shockingly loyal to Austen’s original text and story mechanizations (some of which are literally taking word for word from the novel) while finding some modestly novel ways of lampooning them for the sheer lunancy of the post-apocalyptic zombie genre.  Too much self-aware posturing here would have been a miscalculation, whereas ostensibly throwing mindless violence and carnage up at the screen (granted, there’s ample amounts of that here) would have completely devalued the source text as well.  Amazingly, Austen’s indomitable characters, flavorful language, and overall narrative are kind of lovingly preserved here: if you completely remove the flesh eating monstrosities from the proceedings then what we’re left with is a fairly decent costume drama and appropriation of the novel.  Yet, for aficionados of nightmarish zombie fiction, there’s also enough here to appease your sensibilities, making PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES very democratic in approach. 



Those familiar with Austen’s story will not be lost here, but the film nevertheless does have a lot of explaining to do about how in the hell zombies infected her literary universe.   Utilizing a fairly nifty illustrated pop-up style storybook sequence to convey the history of the film, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES relays how the zombie virus originated in one of the British foreign colonies and found its way to England.  Within no time, most of the British Empire became overrun by zombie hordes, with the remaining citizens retreating to London (now encased in a giant protective wall) for safe haven (incidentally, in this film’s history it’s the zombie invasion that makes King George go mad).  In a nearby countryside estate far away from the zombie chaos resides Elizabeth Bennett (CINDERELLA’s luminous star Lily James) and her sister Jane (Bella Heathcoate), being raised with a watchful and protective eye by their father Mr. Bennett (Charles Dance).   

However, unlike Austen’s original narrative, Mr. Bennet has had his daughters trained in the Orient to be zombie-killing soldiers (they find curiously novel ways of concealing knives, swords, and axes in their ornate dresses and gowns), making them both fierce combatants on the battlefield and verbal warriors on the social front as well.  Beyond ensuring that his daughters can protect themselves from all forms of zombie combatants, Mr. Bennet also has a vested interest in their marital opportunities.  Jane manages to fall in love with the charming and handsome Bingley (Douglas Booth), whereas Elizabeth develops an attraction for the sullen and anti-social Darcy (Sam Reilly), whom in this version of the tale is a fierce zombie-decimating machine on top of being a coldly guarded introvert.  When a noble soldier in Wickham (Jack Huston) shows up and displays interest in Elizabeth, she’s forced to choose between two potential suitors…all while the zombie apocalypse brews to a boiling point around them all. 

Okay, PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIE is a silly movie…a very silly movie.  Yet, part of the appeal of what Steers does here is in letting his actors play their respective roles with a straight-laced appeal.  For the most part, the ensemble cast plays things like they’re in a bona fide Jane Austen adaptation and never attempt to oversell the inherent schlocky hamminess of the material.  Lilly James makes an effective Elizabeth in a very tricky performance, tricky in the sense that she has to make frequent transitions in the film from being a well mannered and headstrong aristocratic gal in some scenes to being a brutally effective zombie killer in others…and somehow making it feel strangely credible.  She has a porcelain beauty and an endlessly confident spirit that allows for her to fit well into Austen’s heroine, but she also commands herself admirably and convincingly in the film’s many action sequences.  

The other performances – again, played for drama first and satiric wink-wink laughs a distant second – compliment James quite well throughout the film.  Charles Dance brings an instant sensation of paternal authority to Mr. Bennett, and Reilly has a field day conveying the stone cold façade of Darcy that secretly harbors a deep affection for Elizabeth (the film slyly hints that their growing attraction to one another may also have something to do with their mutual appreciation of the other’s lethality as zombie killers).  One performance that does go straight for laughs is from Matt Smith playing Parson Collins, a Bennet cousin that wishes to marry a Bennet girl to usurp control of the family estate.  Delectably mousy and weak willed, Collins provides the film (just as his character did in Austen’s novel) with some well timed comic relief, and witnessing Smith fully inhabit this pathetically unlucky in love chap is sublimely entertaining. 

In a weird manner, I found myself less engaged in the film’s action sequences, all done with reasonable and swift authority, but all somewhat watered down by limp PG-13 rating (even though this film really pushes the acceptable boundaries of the rating).  The film does display some novelty in terms of not falling back on overused zombie genre troupes.  Most people become fully realized zombies after being bitten in countless other past films, but here these zombies must first feast on human brains before they become 100 per cent turned, leaving those that haven’t in a semi-docile and non-threatening state.  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES also has a compelling manner of commenting on the societal norms of its story’s setting, as displayed in the opening scene introducing Darcy.  He slowly makes his way through a room filled with uppity socialites as he uses quick deductive wits, sharp conversational skills, and a small bottle of flies to pin-point precisely which one in the room is the hiding-in-plain-sight zombie that he’s looking for.  

Yeah…yeah…PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is a gimmick movie through and through (as, no doubt, was Grahame-Smith’s novel).  Yet, having said that, I can’t say that I didn’t appreciate the execution of said gimmick here, as the film does find respectable inspiration in marrying the more austere aspects of Austen’s book with the more outlandishly perverse accoutrements of zombie fiction.  PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES does kind of rush itself towards a fairly hastily assembled conclusion, not to mention that the motivations of some characters (and a would-be shocking reveal of one in particular) can been seen from literally a mile away, all but eroding any third act suspense.  Nevertheless, if you’re willing to simply submit to the film’s cockamamie mishmash of Austen and George Romero then there’s a surprising and giddy amount to admire here.  It just might be the finest film involving Austen’s characters and zombies that you’ll ever see.  I’ll state my reputation on it

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