Action Adaptation

'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' Film Review: Energetic genre mash-up lives up to its title

February 5, 2016Ben MK

In 1813, Jane Austen published her second novel, "Pride and Prejudice," a book that would go on to sell over twenty million copies and be translated into dozens of languages, inspiring readers the world over for decades, if not centuries, to come. Then, in 2009, author Seth Grahame-Smith added zombies to the mix — and, well, the rest is literary history.

Enter Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, writer/director Burr Steers' spirited adaptation of Grahame-Smith's bestselling book, which casts Cinderella's Lily James as Austen's much-beloved heroine Elizabeth Bennet. This time, however, Ms. Elizabeth isn't simply a proper lady and one of five sisters living in the rural countryside with their mother and father (Sally Phillips and Charles Dance). No, this version of Elizabeth also happens to be a formidable combatant: a steely-eyed zombie-killer and a student of the Shaolin arts, who's extremely handy with a sword.

Set in the 19th century, the film's storybook opening sequence posits an alternate reality where the Napoleonic Wars never occurred. Instead, Europe has bigger things to worry about, as the deceased have mysteriously risen up and overrun the land, turning England into a blood-soaked battleground, neighbor against undead neighbor, and ordinary citizens — like Elizabeth, her older sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) and their three younger kin (Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady and Suki Waterhouse) — into unlikely warriors battling to stave off the zombie apocalypse.

Ordinarily, it would take more than a few reanimated corpses to fluster the headstrong Ms. Elizabeth. And so she's surprised to find herself thrown for a loop when glowering zombie hunter Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Maleficent's Sam Riley) and his too-handsome best friend Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth) ride into town. Of course, it's not exactly love at first sight, as "Pride and Prejudice" fans well know. Yet the more Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy fight side by side against the zombie hordes, the more impossible they find it to deny their true feelings for one another.

Surprisingly, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies remains quite faithful to its 200-year-old source material, with Steers doing a stellar job capturing the essence of Austen's well-worn narrative, while at the same time injecting a healthy portion of modern, fantasy-oriented sensibility into the proceedings. Long story short, Jane Austen fans needn't worry about the movie failing on that front, especially with actors like Doctor Who's Matt Smith, Game of Thrones' Lena Headey and Boardwalk Empire's Jack Huston gamely filling the film's supporting roles.

When it comes to the film's ability to satisfy fans of zombie horror, however, it's a slightly different story, as moviegoers hoping to bask in the crimson glory of some gory, Walking Dead style zombie dismemberment will have to settle for jump scares, quick-cut violence and off-camera kills instead. Still, as long as you don't mind the blood, guts and entrails being kept to a minimum, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is quite the rollicking good time, and one that's every bit the period drama, romance and fantasy-action thrill-ride its offbeat title makes it out to be.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies releases February 5th, 2016 from eOne Entertainment. The film has an MPAA rating of PG-13 for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material. Its runtime is 1 Hr. 48 Mins.

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