Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
Burr Steers’ Pride and Prejudice and Zombies adapts the novel of the same name that adds an undead twist to the classic Jane Austen tale.
How many people have suffered through studying Jane Austen at school, college or university and wished they would add zombies to make the story more interesting? Probably not many people in fairness but it makes for a good opening to a review like this. I’ll start off by saying that I’m really not a fan of Jane Austen’s work but I do acknowledge that it has an important place in literary history. It’s simply not for me. As for the book version of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies I am completely unfamiliar with that so have no idea how this film stacks up as an adaptation. This film has been in development hell since around 2009 for whatever reason so I can only imagine what level of change occurred before we finally get the film that we see here.
The story focuses on Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) who struggles with the pressures of being a lady in 19th century England. Her mother (Sally Phillips) is eager to get her and the rest of her sisters married off before they get too old to be desirable, she suffers from being regarded as the second loveliest of her sisters and to top it off, there are legions of the undead looking to eat her brains at any opportunity.
One thing that really struck me is that Lily James and the rest of the cast really take the material seriously. The approach from an acting point of view seems to be the same as if this were an adaptation of Jane Austen’s original Pride and Prejudice. It does add an air of authenticity to the whole thing and makes it seem as if it is something other than a joke. The problem with that is the material demands that it be treated as fairly tongue in cheek. Certainly the overall tone and much of the dialogue lends itself to be constantly winking at the audience about how silly an idea adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice really is. The serious performances suggest that the actors don’t quite get the joke and it all feels really surreal as a viewing experience.
As I’ve said, Lily James takes the material seriously and she is very good in the role. She brings a certain refinement to Elizabeth as well as a disinterested attitude when considering her place in society. She also looks competent as an action heroine and is certainly believable in the role. Her chemistry with Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy helps carry that relationship even if Riley’s performance falls flat. There is definitely something there and their eventual relationship is more believable as a result.
Elizabeth’s sisters Jane (Bella Heathcote), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), Mary (Millie Brady) and Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) suffer from limited screen time but all of them fill those roles capably. Jane is featured more than any of the other sisters and feels believable as a sibling thanks to Bella Heathcote’s performance.
Matt Smith’s Parson Collins is another highlight. His performance is a little bit too reminiscent of his turn as the Doctor but the familiarity is somewhat comfortable. It’s almost as if the Doctor traveled to this time period and decided to get involved in the events. Smith fully throws himself into the role and brings the majority of the laughs through his wacky performance.
The major issue with this film is that the novelty of having zombies in a Jane Austen story very quickly wears off. I found myself amused by the concept for a few minutes but it gets tired very quickly and never really recovers. This might have something to do with the fact that the actors are taking the material seriously but whatever the cause, I found myself losing interest very quickly.
Much of the story feels underdeveloped such as an alliance made with a group of seemingly peaceful zombies that doesn’t seem to go anywhere. This could be a symptom of the film being in development for so long as it comes from nowhere and goes nowhere. There are other story elements that behave in a similar way suggesting that the finished product was rushed just to get it finished.
This creates an overall sense that this film really doesn’t know what it should be about. Is it about a group of girls trying to find husbands to secure their place in society or is it about survival against the undead? The film tries to do both and ends up achieving neither to any degree of success.
The action sequences are infrequent but enjoyable when they happen. Most of the cast look believable when wielding 19th century weaponry against zombies and the visual effects are competently handled for the most part. There is some obvious CGI but it didn’t detract from things too much.
A noble stab at adding the undead to Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice but the novelty wears off too quickly for it to remain enjoyable. This could be due to the actors taking the material too seriously as the performances are very good but feel out of place in something that should be tongue and cheek. The story has too many underdeveloped parts and there’s an overall sense that the film doesn’t really know what it wants to be about. Adding zombies to Pride and Prejudice doesn’t quite make the material accessible as far as I’m concerned.
• the solid performances from actors that take the material seriously
• competently handled action sequences
• story elements that come from nowhere and go nowhere
• the novelty very quickly wearing off
• an overall lack of direction for the film as a whole