Question: Is there no end to the tsunami of material that has sprung from Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice”?
Answer: Apparently not.
All great respect to Ms. Austen and her classic novel, but we’ve seen so many film and television adaptations, not to mention modern twists such as “Bridget Jones’s Diaries” and the web series “The Lizzie Bennet Diaries,” and the Bollywood gem “Bride & Prejudice,” and the time- travel-themed “Lost in Austen” miniseries, etc., that if we MUST get another variation on the story, the weirder the better.
“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”? Bring it on. Heck, I’d rather see “Pride and Prejudice and Wolverines,” or “Pride and Prejudice and Enormous, Man-Eating Rabbits.” Anything but a straightforward telling of the tale.
As was the case with the bloody, campy, guilty pleasure “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” (also based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith), the title pretty much says it all.
You’ve got your Regency Era England, and you’ve got your pride and your prejudice, with Mrs. Bennet trying to marry off her daughters, and the charming Mr. Bingley courting Jane, while Elizabeth is repulsed by the arrogant Mr. Darcy, mostly because of the deceits of Mr. Wickham and multiple misunderstandings, and blah de blah blah de blah …
The fun part? All of this takes place against the backdrop of a great Zombie Apocalypse, with the British army and multitudes of civilians — including the women — engaged in one horrific, blood-spattered, grotesque and fantastically disgusting (albeit PG-13) battle after another.
Lily James of “Downton Abbey” and the recent “Cinderella” adaptation — and yes, I wouldn’t mind seeing “Cinderella and the Vampire Prince Charming” at this point — has cornered the market on plucky lately, and she’s equal parts charming and fierce as Elizabeth. She and her sisters are well-mannered lasses, but first and foremost they are expertly trained warriors, schooled in the martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, knife play, gunplay and good ol’ fashioned kick-a-zombie-in-his-skull play. If the “Fox Force Five” referenced in “Pulp Fiction” were transported to early 19th century England, well here they are.
The invaluable Charles Dance adds a dignified presence as the doting father of the five sisters; Sally Phillips is a comedic hoot as their horrible mother, who is obsessed with marrying them off to men of means.
When the dashing and wealthy Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) approaches Jane (Bella Heathcote) at a grand gala and asks her for the next TWO dances, Mrs. Bennet congratulations him on selecting the most attractive of her daughters — and she says this in front of the other four. What a peach!
Sam Riley is a bit of a stiff as Mr. Darcy, but then again, Mr. Darcy IS a bit of a stiff, eh? There’s an obvious spark between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, but she overhears him insulting her at that gala, and she stomps off, and that’s right around the time the story would feel overly familiar and predictable, were it not for the zombies that crash the party. Just when Elizabeth is in peril, Mr. Darcy appears out of nowhere and blows the head off one zombie in spectacular fashion — and that’s the first of many episodes in which Mr. Darcy saves Elizabeth, or (just as often) Elizabeth saves Darcy.
In true “Walking Dead” fashion, time after time when a favorite character is about to become zombie meat — BOOM! Someone appears out of nowhere with a well-timed shot to the head or ax to the eye or knife to the neck.
Director Burr Steers, who wrote the screenplay based on Grahame-Smith’s book that is of course built on Austen’s book, does a nifty job of rocketing from period-piece romance to gory bloodshed, with sprinkles of dark humor here and there.
Lena Headey from “Game of Thrones” is big fun as Mr. Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, reimagined as a one-eyed zombie killer. Matt Smith (“Doctor Who”) is at first hilarious and then a bit too look-at-me in his performance as the pompous twit Mr. Collins. Jack Huston, who comes from Hollywood royalty and is a terrific chameleon, often unrecognizable from role to role (he was the disfigured sniper Richard Harrow in “Boardwalk Empire”), is sharp as the duplicitous Mr. Wickham.
As for that PG-13 rating: The MPAA is nothing if not consistent in its hypocrisy vis-à-vis sex and violence. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ is rated PG-13 “for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material.”
Heads are blown off and limbs are severed in this movie. A severed head is kicked like a soccer ball. A giant of a man hoists a woman by her neck in an attempt to strangle the life out of her. We see newly minted zombies with half their faces rotting away. There are multiple stabbings, shootings, killings.
Ah, but the heaving bosoms remain corseted, and the language is tame. If “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” had featured a topless glimpse of one of those five daughters, or an expletive-filled rant from Mr. Darcy, surely we’d be talking about an R-rated movie.
But a film with a church scene in which zombies consume the blood and the brains of pigs as a communion ritual? No worries, PG-13!
Screen Gems presents a film written and directed by Burr Steers, based on the novel by Jane Austen and Seth Grahame-Smith. Running time: 107 minutes. Rated PG-13 (for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material). Opens Friday at local theaters.