The 2009 parody novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came about when a shrewd book editor decided to combine a list of populist horror characters, fanboy favorites and geek culture icons with public domain books whose copy write had expired meaning they could be rewritten and reimagined without any dispute.
Alongside other titles such as Sense and Sensibility and Sea Monsters and Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter it first appeared to me that the idea of a mash up between the ever growing zombie genre and the exceedingly famous and much adapted romantic classic written by Jane Austen in 1813 was little more than a crass cash in however I was immensely wrong.
Shocking as it sounds Pride and Prejudice perfectly lends itself to this horror interpretation with its strong heroine brought up alongside free spirited sisters by a progressive father, constant military presence and dark brooding male lead tortured by his past and Seth Grahame-Smith was cleaver enough to expand and evolve every element of Austen’s original to seamlessly fit into a alternate post-apocalyptic 19th century England populated by the roaming dead.
The film adaptation marvelously brings this undead filled world to life offering up a history lesson in its titles that explains how during the 17 and 18 hundreds an infection torn England apart forcing London to cut itself off with a giant moat and families outside the capital to hold up in fortified mansions and train their offspring in the martial arts to keep the threat of zombies at bay.
The Bennet sisters—Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) – encouraged by their father (Charles Dance) to all become masters in swords, fighting and firearms live an isolated but happy existence except for their dotting mother Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) who is obsessed with marrying them all off to wealthy bachelors.
When the oldest Jane becomes enamored with handsome newcomer Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) her fiercely independent sister Elizabeth is forced into an encounter with the stoic and superior Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) and both dislike each other immediately.
With one couple’s relationship blossoming and another’s revulsion growing the future is put in peril when Jane is attacked by a zombie and taken ill at Bingley’s residence. It is up to Lizzy to look after her and convince the over cautious and seemingly callous Col. Darcy she is not infected. So begins a complex tale of twists and turns that could lead to not only the destruction of the Bennet household but also all of England.
As you may have noticed the plot surprisingly faithfully follows the original novel including almost all of its characters, from Jack Huston as Darcy’s rival Wickham to the bumbling idiotic Parson Collins played hilariously by Matt Smith and the powerful and imposing Lady Catherine de Bourgh played flawlessly by Game of Thrones Lena Headey, all of them slightly altered to fit this strange new walking dead world they inhabit.
In many ways adding in the zombies somehow explains several of the characters motivations and actions far better than in any previous TV or film versions of the original story and the audience can much easier except and embrace the hugely famous love/hate relationship of Lizzy and Darcy both excellently played Lily James and Sam Riley who light up the screen whenever they are on it.
For a genre so overdone and lacking in originality Pride and Prejudice and Zombies offers up many wonderfully original ideas and creative concepts merging the mannered aristocratic existence with the constant plight and peril of the flesh hungry foes. Elements such as the use of carrion flies to seek out the infected and the class distinction between the rich who studied martial arts in Japan and the poor who went to China make the film feel fresh and inventive many miles away from the high concept mindless mash up I originally believed it to be.
With high production values, great effects and some stunning set scenes writer and director Burr Steers who previously made romantic comedies like Charlie St. Cloud and 17 Again brilliantly balances all the disparate elements or romance, action, comedy, period drama and horror offering up a vastly entertaining literary adaptation with literally something for everyone.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is fantastic fun and a much needed added twist to the stale zombie genre, perfect for any and all film fans even the brain hungry reanimated corpse of Jane Austen.