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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, February 5, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 06
Austen meets Romero with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Arts & Entertainment
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Austen meets Romero with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

by Sara Michelle Fetters - SGN A&E Writer

PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES
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It's safe to say, of all the pieces of fiction that Jane Austen's novel has inspired, I'd hazard a guess that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies would be the one that likely would have left the author the most dumbfounded. First a novel written by Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter scribe Seth Grahame-Smith, now a major motion picture showcasing Cinderella starlet Lily James, this is as crazy, bordering on nonsensical, an idea as any I could have imagined myself. Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Darcy decapitate the undead while they engage in a droll verbal duel that will ultimately lead to their realizations of love for one another? Preposterous, or, at least, that's what I thought before I entered the theatre to watch this film adaptation for myself.

Funny thing, screenwriter/director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) treats his task with bizarre seriousness, intent on crafting a proper, thoughtful and romantically complex adaptation of Austen's half of the source material, one that just so happens to have flesh-eating zombies popping in and out at the most inopportune of times. He obsesses over the costumes, the period details, the social mores and customs of the time, allowing the Bennet sisters to discuss the pros and cons of romance and of being a wife, all while they're training to slay the undead using martial art techniques picked up while studying in China. It's absurd, yet it also strangely works, making the film something of an eccentrically giddy pleasure I fell more and more in love with as things went on.

The basics remain the same. Elizabeth Bennet (James) and her sisters Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Mary (Millie Brady) and Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) attempt to live up to the high standards set by their loving father Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance). At the same time, their doting mother Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is eager for all of her girls to marry, worried they'll end up penniless spinsters because English law will not allow her husband to leave any of his estate to them.

From there, Elizabeth ends up making the acquaintance of Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), a haughty, opinionated nobleman who is caught off-guard by a member of the opposite sex who is able to match both his intelligence as well as his verbal virtuosity. The headstrong Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey) is here, as is comical fop Pastor Collins (Matt Smith), while the secretive George Wickham (Jack Huston) plans both to increase his social standing as well as marry a woman well above his station. Seriously, it's Pride and Prejudice, even down to Jane getting sick during a rainstorm and Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) insisting she remains at his home with sister Elizabeth by her side, the various romantic entanglements that ensue same here as they are in Austen's timeless novel.

Thrust into all of this, however, is a zombie apocalypse, down to infectious bites, the consumption of brains and the belief the undead hordes can somehow be contained. It's as silly as it sounds, yet, because Steers plays things so straight, treats things with such dramatic sincerity, gosh darn it if all this mayhem and chaos doesn't actually work. There are thrills, there are chills and goodness knows there are a number of laughs, Steers doing a fine job of balancing things with a straight-laced glee that's kind of wonderful.

There is some overreach, but in many ways that is to be expected. Some of the bits involving Wickham and his plans to upend Darcy while also charting a new direction for the growing zombie menace just do not work, and as villains go Huston is somewhat unexpectedly a rather facile one who's nowhere near as menacing as he needs to be. There's also some pretty bad CGI that makes things look like a Resident Evil knock-off, while the film's last scene is unbelievably pointless and should have been left on the cutting room floor.

But James, as she was in Cinderella, is glorious, while Dance dominates his scenes as the authoritative yet loving Mr. Bennet in ways that transcend the material. Smith steals scenes left and right, his comedic timing impeccable throughout. As for the chemistry between Booth and Heathcote, it's through the roof, the point in the story where Mr. Bingley is convinced to break things off with Jane garnering a rather potent emotional response from me I didn't see coming. My only question mark is Riley, his take on the stoic Mr. Darcy one I was never altogether certain of, and as his relationship with Elizabeth is the crux around which all else revolves this is a significant issue that admittedly kept me from embracing the finished film as completely as I maybe otherwise would have.

It should be noted that, although receiving a PG-13 rating, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is amazingly violent, and I can only think it avoided an R rating because amidst all the decapitations, eviscerations and impaling there is astonishingly little in the way of blood. That caveat aside, for those willing to give this Jane Austen meets George A. Romero mash-up a chance, Steers' adaptation of Grahame-Smith's source material is a heck of a lot of fun, and without a doubt it ranks as 2016's first official out-of-nowhere pleasant surprise.

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Austen meets Romero with Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
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