The original Pride and Prejudice novel by Jane Austen was first published in 1813. The story follows Elizabeth Bennet, as she deals with upbringing, morality, education and marriage in society in 19th Century England. Liz is one of five daughters of the Bennets, living in the English countryside. They go all a-flutter when the handsome and wealthy Mr. Bingley and his friend Mr. Darcy move into the neighborhood. Bingley takes a liking to Jane, but Darcy tends to clash with Liz over tradition, status, and general manners. It is a beloved book – and has been translated to the screen multiple times, in 1940, as a 1980 TV mini-series, in 2003, in 2005, and in 2014 as another tv mini-series – not to mention all the other variations – which take the themes and story, and give it a twist. Most notable among these is Bride & Prejudice from 2004, the Bollywood version!
Seth Grahame-Smith is an author who has basically created his own genre of historical-fiction-horror-thriller-comedy books with Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter and Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter was already made into a movie, and honestly – was pretty great! Okay, it wasn’t great, but I really liked it – I actually liked the movie better than the book, and how often can you say that?
In this case, I have not read Grahame-Smith’s Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which was released in 2009 just as the recent zombie craze was picking up steam.
In 19th century England, a new disease was brought back from the ‘colonies’, and zombies are now a thing everyone has to deal with. In order to better be prepared to fight them, children are sent to the ‘orient’ to student fighting styles. The five Bennet girls studied in China, and are doing just fine in their country home when their mother gets crazy excited that the very eligible Mr. Bingley has moved in up the road. He takes an immediate liking to Jane at a party, and while no one seems all that into Liz, the second daughter, Bingley’s friend Darcy gets slightly entranced with Liz after watching her fight off some zombies that have invaded the party.
Liz is turned off by Darcy’s brusque manner, and instead gets a bit charmed by his childhood friend Mr. Wickham, who tells her all kinds of stories about how Darcy has been all terrible to him. Meanwhile, the family’s distant cousin Parson Collins stops by, having just taken up residence at the priory on Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s property (she’s the best swordswoman in all of England!). He’s interested in marrying Jane, however, her mother lets him know she’s basically spoken for – and why not Liz? He’s pretty outspoken about how Liz is not as attractive as Jane, but sure – he’ll take her as long as she gives up her life as a warrior. Liz is outraged at this, and refuses.
Meanwhile, Liz is given more reason to dislike Darcy when he tells Bingley to move back to the city, cold-shouldering Jane. Wickham takes Liz to see a church where zombies have turned but are managing to stay civil by eating pig’s brains instead of human. He tells her humans are already outnumbered and the only chance England has is to form a truce with this new level of zombie. She goes Parson Collins and his new fiancée (he’s moving on quickly) to see Lady Catherine and brings Wickham so that the can propose his plan to Lady Catherine. She’s not interested, and instead Darcy shows up to get moody with everybody. Surprisingly, the next morning – Darcy proposes to Liz, and she tells him no – in the middle of a pretty epic duel, accusing him of betraying both Jane and Wickham. He leaves, and writes her a letter, explaining that Wickham was lying, and that he was trying to protect Bingley because he thought Jane had been bitten.
Well, just as she’s putting things together and wanting to get back with Darcy – Lady Catherine shows up and challenges her – since she wants Darcy to marry her daughter Anne. Elizabeth wins that contest, the city begins to fall, and Wickham seems to kidnap her younger sister. Lady Catherine offers to protect the family, and Elizabeth and Jane head out to rescue their sister Lydia. As it turns out, Wickham is the one secretly leading the zombies against London. Jane rescues Bingley, Liz rescues Darcy – who had tried to fight Wickham and rescue Lydia on his own, and they just make it back across as the bridge separating the country side from the city gets blown up. Liz confesses to Darcy that she’s in love with him, and once he recovers, they marry as Bingley and Jane marry – in a double ceremony performed by Parson Collins.
It sounds insane, and seems like something that should not work – and yet, it really does. Like I said, I haven’t read the book, but from the synopsis I checked, it seems there are several notable differences, and again, it sounds like I would prefer the movie. The action sequences are really great – the slow motion scenes of the ladies fighting are wonderful. That’s surprising considering that Director Burr Steers (Burr?) has previously only done comedy/dramas like 17 Again and Charlie St. Cloud. But what really sells the movie best is the absolute commitment from the cast. They are absolutely making a version of Pride and Prejudice that just so happens to have zombies in it.
- Lily James stars as Elizabeth Bennet and she definitely has the attitude from her time on Downton Abbey. She was also in the live-action Cinderella movie, and I have to say – I thought she was perfect. She absolutely carries the movie, and gives Liz a determination that you don’t often see in ladies in this era. Of course, she’s too quick to judge people, and too slow to admit when she’s wrong (the whole prejudice and pride bit of the title), but she’s a great fighter, and completely loyal to her family.
- Sam Riley plays Mr. Darcy, and I remember noticing him as the crow, Diaval, in Maleficent. He has an odd voice, and an odd look – but honestly, it really works for the role of Darcy. He’s someone who you don’t like, right from the start, and you really don’t like him until he explains himself. Then you realize with Liz that he’s perfect for her.
- Bella Heathcote is an Australian actress who plays Jane. She reminds me a little of Heather Graham – maybe just because of the giant eyes. She is the more ‘perfect’ sister, the one who all the men are into.
- Ellie Bamber plays Lydia, the young sister who gets kidnapped by Wickham. She doesn’t have much to do, but all the sisters have a scene where they spar together, and it’s really fun.
- Douglas Booth plays the very desirable Mr. Bingley. He was Titus in Jupiter Ascending, and Shem in the Russell Crowe Noah, two things which almost no one saw. He’s pretty good in this, but since his job is just to stand around and be good-looking, he becomes a bit of a non-factor; Especially since the sisters have to bail him out of fights twice when he seems to freeze up facing zombies.
- Sally Phillips plays Mrs. Bennet – and is best known here as Shazza in the Bridget Jones movies. She provides plenty of comedy relief and is very serious about getting all her daughters married off to wealthy bachelors; nevermind their personalities!
- Charles Dance plays Mr. Bennet, and it was certainly a bit of a change seeing him as a ‘good’ guy instead of the head of the Lannisters on Game of Thrones. It’s a little tough to buy him as pleasant, even though he was just trying to do the best he could for his daughters.
- Jack Huston plays Mr. Wickham, and has been in American Hustle and the Longest Ride. He is easily buyable as the charming sweet guy, and you totally believe him when he tells Liz how Darcy has done him wrong in the past. Of course, if you’re familiar with the story, you know he’s lying, but he’s just so charming! When he started talking zombie-truces, though – I knew he was bad news.
- Lena Heady plays Lady Catherine de Bourgh – the most famous swordswoman in England, and she’s basically playing another version of characters she excels at – the high-level badass lady who’s not taking crap from anybody. Plus – eyepatch.
- Matt Smith stole the entire movie as the foppish Parson Collins. He’s hilariously uncomfortable, awkward, and just terrible. He’s very proud of his talent for telling ‘delicate compliments’ and super excited to be living so close to Lady Catherine. He’s really hilarious, and I’m glad he made it through the movie, since that character didn’t make it through the book.
Overall, check your preconceived notions – or prejudices – at the door, and you’ll have a good time. It’s fun, it’s over-the-top, and really entertaining. It’s also PG13, so the zombies aren’t anywhere nearly as gory as the zombies are week to week on the Walking Dead. That’s honestly a good thing. Most of the stabbing, chopping, eating, and squishing happens off-screen, so you can use your imagination.
8 out of 10 – super fun. Gained points for Liz and her sisters weaponing up before the party. Lost points for Liz falling for Wickham’s nonsense…he’s just so charming! Gained all the points for Smith’s performance.
Bonus - SDCC 2015 Panel