Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) – Or the Film in Which Darcy and Lizzy Kick Butt
There is a certain danger that lies at the surface when a writer messes with classic literature. After all, there is a reason something has come through generations and stood the test of time through wars, emerging as a distinct classic. While I respect this mindset and understand its reasoning and purpose, I am not one such person bothered by creative liberties taken with classic literature. Or at least I haven’t been.
Relinquishing her sword for a ring is not something Lizzy Bennet (Lily James) is poised to do. She’s a skilled warrior made so by the circumstances of her world which is infected by a mysterious illness that plagues the citizens of Meryton with the plague of the undead. Against this rising force the Bennet’s and many of them must fight against the zombies walking among them. Into their small community arrives the wealthy Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth), who takes a shine to Lizzy’s elder sister, Jane (Bella Heathcote). Among Bingley’s party is (much to the delight of Mrs. Bennet) the even wealthier Darcy (Sam Riley) who’s yearly income is double that of his friend.
As Jane and Bingley form an attachment, Lizzy and Darcy undergo a sparring relationship that inspires Lizzy to rise and match each of Darcy’s intellect challenges. Unbeknownst to Lizzy, Darcy falls a little bit harder each time the wry Miss Bennet bests him.
Finding the best place to start in discussing the pros and cons, good and bad, awesome and fail of this adaptation isn’t easy. Why? The reason is simple. Let’s face it, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is (kind of) a hot mess. And I adored (nearly) every second of it. Perhaps the inclusion of the “bad” is the best starting point since working up to positive leaves us with something to anticipate. The film started off in a way that left me gleeful. I loved the set up (Darcy in an epic duster coat SLAYS THINGS before five minutes are gone) and the fact that the opening credits take on a “story time” appearance which offers background. But once the first 15 minutes or thereabout have passed, I felt the story hits a stalemate.
Though not wholly, this was part of the reason I shut the film off after 30-40 minutes in. The more practical reason being that I started watching it late at night, and no matter what I tell myself (things such as REAL book nerds don’t sleep), I do require some sleep. The script bookends itself to complement the novel whereas some of the middle portions widely differ, and I felt like this creates a stale environment and sometimes awkward transition into the next sequence of events. But after a few days away, I finally finished the film and let me tell you, my reaction took a 180 turn for the better. I became enthralled and somehow, charmed by the latter portion.
ROMANTIC MOMENT OF THE WEEK | Lizzy Bennet and Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy
Where to begin? Allowing myself to share all of my fangirl feels would take a number of additional pages then I’ll allow myself because, yes, I wound up feeling that positively about this film. One such reason for this is the cast, who are exceptional. Lily James (War& Peace, Cinderella, Downton Abbey) again leads a strong group of young British talent and is, as usual, at her most charming. (Only this time she gets to play with a fiercer persona.) Then there is Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet, an actor also at the top of his game, and it was pleasant to see Douglas Booth (Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations) in something again.
I shall never relinquish my sword for a ring. - Lizzy Bennet
But it’s Matt Smith (Doctor Who) who steals the show as Parson Collins. He plays the role as if it were tailor-made for him; every (all too rare) scene he’s in is comedy gold. My only flip-flop casting choice lands on Sam Riley’s shoulders. As I already alluded too, I did love the opening sequence which Sam commands since he’s the only primary character involved, but as the film progressed, I doubted him a number of times. That said, I think by the end, I was leaning more in the “approve” camp and suspect with subsequent viewings I’ll be Team Darcy as played by Riley.
Looking beyond the cast, the rest of the production sparkles with magic, comedy and romance. The costumes are beautiful and I found myself liking the unique designs, and use of familiar patterns and style juxtaposed to create a steampunk vibe. The atmosphere is overall, darker, but that’s to be expected. What is unexpected is the great departure this script takes from the novel. For a story such as this, I approved of these changes though to say more would spoil the effect, so I won’t.
If you step into this expecting it to be what it is – a literary mash-up that doesn’t take itself seriously, then I have a feeling you’ll enjoy this. If for no other reason (although methinks there are a ton), fans of Matt Smith should see this merely for his portrayal of Collins. True this isn’t as masterfully romantic (because there are more time constraints) and the zombie attacks might have been limited to fewer numbers, but I’d argue the final romantic scene between Darcy and Lizzy can hold its own quite beautifully (and it’s this that won me over to Riley’s Darcy). That, for me, is quite enough to overcome any minor disagreements. It made me look at characters with fresh eyes, which I respected and gave us plenty to love.
Everything from the Bennet women sitting in a parlor cleaning their muskets to Mrs. Bennet complimenting Lady Catherine on her pantaloons (yes, this happens) and finally, to that final swoony moment. This is a creative, witty gem of a costume drama that while not fit for everyone, is a delight from beginning to end for those of us OK with some rule-bending within the immortal words of Jane Austen.
CONTENT: There is some zombie violence, none of which is terribly graphic although the just-out-of-frame head bashing or head shots are certainly impacting. A couple engages in a literal sparring match when a proposal goes array. There might be some minor innuendoes. The film is rated PG13.