Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – A Clever Idea Runs Out of Steam!

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

‘It is a universally acknowledged truth that a zombie in possession of brains must be in search of more brains.’

Thus begins Pride & Prejudice & Zombies – the movie adaptation of the novel that married Jane Austin’s social satire to the zombie apocalypse. All the important plot points (and best lines) from the novel are here – along with a large amount of blood and gore.

A brief prologue introduces the world in which the zombie apocalypse arises in 18th Century England before moving on with introducing the familiar characters – the Bennets, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Bingley, Pastor Collins and so forth.

Everyone seems to regard Jane Bennet (Bella Heathcote, Dark Shadows) as the loveliest of the five Bennet daughters, though the wilful and impertinent Elizabeth (Lily James, Cinderella) is certainly more beautiful.

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Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, Romeo & Juliet) is a strapping lad who falls for Jane before being persuaded that she’s only after his money by Darcy (Sam Riley, Maleficent), and Matt Smith (Doctor Who, Terminator Genesys) is a fine fit as Collins – a man who declares himself to be gifted when it comes to flattering the ladies and then proves himself utterly incompetent in that regard moments later.

Riley makes an appropriately somber Darcy – he’s in charge of the defense against the zombie hordes, after all – but it is weird to see one of Austen’s most delightful conversations being carried out while he and Elizabeth are locked in a very nicely choreographed martial arts duel.

Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) makes a suitably slimy George Wickham – with even darker ulterior motives than in the original novel.

The film wastes Charles Dance (Game of Thrones) and Sally Phillips – who make the most the scene in which they totally disagree about Elizabeth marrying the pastor.

I could go on about familiar scenes leading to horrific climaxes, but the point here is that Pride & Prejudices & Zombies is remarkably faithful to the Austen original when it’s not dealing with the zombies but its initial cleverness wears off about halfway through (the point at which I finished my big drink).

Sam Riley and Douglas Booth in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Sam Riley and Douglas Booth in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Possibly the worst part of the movie is the tag that seems to be setting up a potential sequel. Just a smidge overconfident…

Although I haven’t read either of the source novels – I’ve seen three different P&P films and reviewed the PPZ graphic novel for Eclipse a few years back (and it was great fun) – I get the sense that the cast could have done a decent Pride & Prejudice and, while they certainly seem to be having fun here, they are let down by a script that just seems thin (decidedly not enough Austen and too much Seth Grahame-Smith – though the transitions between the two are pretty seamless, so there’s that).

Writer/director Burr Steers (17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud) directs with some enthusiasm but gives more attention to the zombie sequences than the characters. He definitely wants the dialogue to carry the social satire but doesn’t really do much to emphasize it – with the result that much of it is verging on boring.

Physically, the film looks good – the costumes, sets and cinematography are pretty fine – but emotionally, it’s pretty flimsy.

I didn’t hate Pride & Prejudice & Zombies, but it didn’t do anything to enamor me of it, either.

Final Grade: C-

Photos courtesy of Lionsgate