Director: Burr Steers
Writer: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Suki Waterhouse, Douglas Booth, Sally Philips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Matt Smith, and Lena Headey
Synopsis: Jane Austen’s classic tale of the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England is faced with a new challenge – and army of undead zombies.
*Reviewer Note: This will be a spoiler free review.*
*Reviewer Note 2: There is a very short scene in the middle of the credits*
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has had a very troubled and long production. Natalie Portman was originally set to star until she dropped out because of scheduling conflicts – although she stayed on as a producer – and David O. Russell was going to direct until he dropped out due to scheduling conflicts as well. Lily Collins was then going to replace Portman but turned it down, and then the studio landed on Burr Steers to finally direct. What we finally ended up getting was a better than expected adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s take on Jane Austen’s classic story of “Pride and Prejudice.” Of course, one has to get over the concept that zombies are added into a classic novel, and if you can get over that, then you’ll enjoy the film a hell of a lot more.
Just like the original – the Jane Austen story – Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is set in 19th century England and places its focus on Elizabeth Bennet (James) and her sisters: Jane (Heathcote), Lydia (Bamber), Mary (Brady), and Kitty (Waterhouse). Their mother, played by Sally Phillips, is determined to find them wealthy and eligible suitors so they can get married, since once their father dies, they get nothing. Of course, Elizabeth is very independent and headstrong with little to no interest in giving up her swords and martial arts training to be a married woman and to follow the norm of society. However, during all this, zombies – a term they actually use in the film – are overtaking England. This is where changes into the Austen’s story take place and where Grahame-Smith’s take kicks in.
The Bennet Sisters have been trained since they were girls and thanks to their father, played by Charles Dance, were sent to be trained in China, were the “wise” parents send their children to train as opposed to the rich parents who send their children to Japan. Certain families have gone the countryside to hide under their lands which includes the Bennet’s. When Mrs. Bennet finds out a new wealthy suitor in Mr. Bingley (Booth) has arrived from the warfront, they go to a ball where Bingley and Jane fall for each other. At that same party, Elizabeth meets Mr. Darcy (Riley), now a general in the army against the undead. The love story between them starts off as standoffish and trying to up one another every chance they can get. However, when George Wickham, a lieutenant in the army and one that has a past with Darcy comes into town, Elizabeth starts to fall for him, and where the love story starts to take place. Of course, everything comes to head once the story picks up in the final act that leads to an explosive and its own spin on the love story ending.
Again, if you can get past the concept of zombies being injected into the story and the fact that now all the characters know martial arts and fight with swords, then sitting through the movie will be a hell of a lot better. However, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a pretty enjoyable and fun movie anyway. Director Burr Steers and Co. do a great job of balancing the different tones of action, horror, and comedy and make them blend together fairly well. The tonal differences could have really hurt the film, but thankfully Steers control the tones and make them work for the film instead of against it.
That’s not to say that Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t without its faults and missteps. The film is good, but could have been better with some better pacing in the middle of the film and expanding some of the new concepts they bring in that includes a Horsemen of the Apocalypse angle that leads nowhere expect some nice visuals. Some visuals do work, while others fall flat especially an early one in the film, but for some it doesn’t help that some scenes are very poorly lit. The low lighting really makes one particularly scene hard to see anything, which doesn’t help since the scene feels like it’s important scene, but since we can’t see anything, the scene just fails.
Jack Huston’s Wickham also falls a bit flat, although his story with Darcy is solid, it’s a bit rushed so the emotional impact and feeling fails to grab a huge amount of attention. Also felling underwhelming is Lena Headey’s character Lady Catherine de Bourgh. Heady also has a few scenes in the film, but none of them really stick out too much. It’s a shame really since her character is described as one of the deadliest and most skilled swordswomen in England, which is accompanied with a nice visual, but other than that, the character doesn’t really go anyway.
As for the rest of the cast, they all do well with the material presented in front of them. Lily James nails Elizabeth Bennet is every way possible, making her easy to root for and a kickass character at that. Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy is one of the characters you grow to like as he comes off as a bit full of himself, but sees his actions as necessary to protect everyone from the zombie plague. Bella Heathcote’s Jane Bennet gets really the third billing of the movie since her arc with Douglas Booth’s Mr. Bingley is the main arc in the first act of the film, although they both disappear during the middle of the film in order to drawn Elizabeth and Darcy’s arc. The other three sisters are a bit interchangeable unless you remember who’s playing who. Matt Smith, who plays Parson Collins, is a big highlight in every scene he’s in and could easily steal the film for some people.
All in all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a hell of a lot of fun and more enjoyable than some will give it credit for. While it fails on some levels, like pacing and some underdeveloped scenes, that stop it from being great, everyone involved make the crazy concept worth the watch. If zombie action with a little classic romance is your thing, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies should fill that right up.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
4 out of 5