It is a truth universally acknowledged among those who know me, that I am quite possibly the world’s most anti-violence person ever. I hate guns, abhor blood and guts, and got half an hour into Shaun of the Dead before it had to be switched off and replaced with Downton Abbey. So it may come as a surprise that I agreed to watch the masterpiece mashup gore-fest that is Pride + Prejudice + Zombies. Under the guise of ‘revision’ and under duress from a fellow English student and lit lover, I reluctantly agreed to accompany her to the cinema to watch Jane Austen’s romance get literally destroyed by a horde of Seth Grahame-Smith’s ravenous zombies.
With the immortal (get it!?) line ‘It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains,’ so began perhaps the oddest, yet most brilliant, mashup of genres known in literary and cinematic history. The tale began with Sam Riley’s terse and leather-clad Colonel (not Mr!) Darcy travelling to an aristocratic home that soon turned out to be not all it appeared to be. Much like a murder mystery, one among the party was revealed to be a zombie attempting to infiltrate the household…cue an ingenious method in the use of carrion flies to hunt out the undead, and an awful lot of beheading.
The action then reverted to the peaceful house of the Bennets, the five sisters gathered in the drawing room polishing their rifles and swords, after returning from their warrior-arts training in China. Just a normal day in zombie-ravaged 19th century England, eh? From then on, the plot fairly consistently follows Austen’s renowned story, keeping all the best bits, such as the ball at the Bingleys (complete with zombie invasion vanquished by the kick-ass Bennet sisters), and resulting in the wedding of the two couples – with only a few plot divergences in the form of zombie attacks along the way!
Featuring some of Britain’s best and brightest young actors, including Lily James as a headstrong and even more independent Lizzie Bennet, Matt Smith as the extravagantly dancing, humorous and bumbling “You may now kiss Mr Darcy..erm..the brides” Parson Collins, and the wonderful cheekbones of Douglas Booth as a slightly wimpy Mr Bingley, the casting and chemistry between the characters is second to none. Special praise must go to the oily yet handsome Jack Huston in his role as the charming Captain Wickham.
Yet for myself and my wildly feminist cinema-going pal, the best part of the film simply has to be the new and improved feminine empowerment given to the formerly simpering females of the 19th century original. In Austen’s novel, the girls are for the most part, undeniably passive, yet here the female characters truly did kick ass, with both Lizzie and Jane (Bella Heathcote) saving their respective spouses from various zombie attacks and explosions, and Lady Catherine De Bourgh (Game of Thrones’ Lena Headey) transformed from a bitter and snobbish aristocrat to a notorious and wealthy eyepatch-sporting zombie killer, whose formidable reputation ensures Rosings Park estate soon becomes the only safe refuge against rampaging zombie attacks.
Another fantastic point about this film is that it knows not to take itself too seriously. From Riley’s recreation of that Colin-Firth-as-Darcy-jumping-into-the-lake-scene, to the slightly risqué and literal fisticuffs that take place when Lizzie rejects Darcy, director and screenplay writer Burr Steers manages to steer Pride + Prejudice + Zombies on the right side of the fine line between satirising Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, whilst retaining enough of the original plot and improving it in some respects, to keep even the most devoted Austenite happy!
Despite the critical reviews Pride + Prejudice + Zombies has received, it is the mixture of the new additions to the story, and familiar retaining of the old that renders this film unique, and the characters infinitely likeable and badass. With a conclusion that is satisfying, mystifying and terrifying all in one go, this is a film that does not disappoint. After hiding behind my scarf for the first zombie deaths, within minutes I was immersed in the action of this dramatic, empowering film. In fact, I got so into it, I might even brave Shaun of the Dead again…
Full of frights, fantastic costumes and plenty of gore, Pride + Prejudice + Zombies is a must-see for those of you who like Austen, zombies or both. Honestly, it’s the perfect combination!
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Images ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, Lionsgate