An amusing genre mash-up of horror and classic literature tumbles out of the one-joke, no-budget, B-movie drawer. The cast has a whale of a time turning Jane Austen into the Walking Dead with bonnets, but for all it’s knowing winks and attractive stars, it’s little more than an overstretched French and Saunders sketch.
If you’re in the narrow, venn diagram demographic of classic literature, period drama and bloody body-horror fans, you will appreciate the genre clash, but maybe not all the way to the creaky, Hammer-inflected climax.
Georgian England; why is the army moving about the countryside? Not because of the constant state of mobilisation of the Napoleonic Wars, but because of the zombie plague, obviously. Cue the recasting of the Bennett sisters as fighting hell-cats and Mr Darcy as the aristocratic zombie-hunter. The Darcy-Lizzie relationship remains unchanged, with a little extra class warfare between the Chinese-trained Bennett and Japanese-trained aristocrats.
There are some witty set-pieces adapted from Austen where the verbal duelling become fight sequences – Lady Catherine’s interrogation of Lizzie should have been a scrap between the two leads, but presumably they didn’t get enough days for Heady to learn the moves, so it’s fought by proxy with a hulking henchman. Perhaps the best and funniest set-piece is the proposal scene in which Darcy and Lizzie trash an elegant drawing room in full-on martial arts mode whilst delivering Austen’s dialogue.
Lily James (Cinderella, Fast Girls) is fine as Lizzie, subsitituting lightness of touch and delicacy with a more modern have-a-go, all-in action role (but she ain’t no Gina Corano). Sam Reilly (Malificent, Brighton Rock) is an adequately chilly Darcy to fill the big black leather overcoat and throws witty lines better than kicks and punches. They are well matched, which is more than can be said for some Austen pairings.
Lena Headey (Dredd) is drafted in from the off-season of Game of Thrones to play Lady Catherine de Burgh as a piratical, eye-patch wearing version of Circse Lanister. Charles Dance (Dracula Untold) is a little more sympathetic as Mr Bennett; Sally Philips (Gladiatress, Bridget Jones) gets the edited highlights of Mrs Bennett (which is still too much Sally Philips).
Douglas Booth gets little to do but look pretty as Bingley; Dr Who‘s Matt Smith plays Mr Collins strictly for laughs. A restrained Jack Huston (Ben Hur, Outlander, Twilight: Eclipse) plays the slippery George Wickham with relish without over going over the top.
Writer/director Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) cherry-picks and re-write Austen’s famous lines for us to chuckle over, but there’s really no requirement to know the source material as we’re soon off the reservation in service of the period-action-adventure-horror-comedy plot which by my reckoning is several genres too many in one movie.
Despite some good CGI of Georgian London, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies just doesn’t have the budget to play the epic scale to which it aspires, so it frequently clunks from the really wide to the really narrow; we’re stuck on a heath in Essex for much of the exteriors, there’s a few country house interiors used well; the zombie prosthetics are flawless and quite revolting. But it’s clearly scrimping and saving compared to a top-league Hollywood production.
As good a job as writer/director Burr Steers does, the trouble, of course, is the amount of Austen that gets ditched and the amount of zombie daftness that replaces it, to the extent that we have a patchwork movie that ultimately proves how incompatible are the action-horror genre and period drama of social manners. Of course it’s not Austen. It’s a pre-Steam-Punk, comic-book, B-movie romp. And there’s nothing wrong with that. RC
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Direcor: Burr Steers
Writer: Burr Steers, Jane Austen
Genre: Action, Adventure, Comedy, Horror, Romance
Running time: 107 minutes
Cast: Lily James, Sam Reilly, Jack Huston, Matt Smith, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Douglas Booth, Sally Philips