2016 (USA / UK)
Contains mild spoilers.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly how it sounds. It's the iconic, sumptuous, slow paced, dialogue and costume heavy intricate maze of 18th century high society, with deep complex characters clashing over honour and duty, marriage and love. Presented as a dutiful BBC adaptation with lavish locations, an array of amazing acting talent and grand cinematography, it's a stunning adaptation of the classic with all the good and bad that brings. Then there's the undead elephant in the room. It's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and it's not a metaphor or aesthetic analogy; they're real, they're gnarly, decaying and dangerous, and they're also a deeply entrenched and accepted part of the Bennet sisters world.
Author of the book this was adapted from, Seth Grahame-Smith described the process of inserting the zombies akin to micro-surgery. Whilst I wouldn't agree that surgery is necessarily the right word and his intervening somehow fixed something, I'm more than happy to agree that what he walked away from somehow, inexplicably given the magnitude of what was added, doesn't show any scarring or evidence that it's been tampered with. It is Pride and Prejudice; it's dances and balls, with afternoon tea and courtships, where ladies need a chaperone and men need another chance to lose money at whist. It's just that it's also a world where London has fallen to the zombie mass, ladies have several years in the far east learning ancient martial arts and Colonels like Darcy (Sam Riley) carry jars of carrion flies in case they're ever called upon to unveil any dead masquerading as alive.
And it all works. Whether down to Grahame-Smith or director Burr Steers, the film somehow, and inexplicable as it sounds, tells the Austen story without accusation of complacency or dumbing, with the zombies a recognisably coherent and integral part of it all. Jane Austen unapologetically took aim in 1813 at a high society built on a duplicitous standards; there was what one could talk about and what one actually did, and her own opening remark about unmarried men came to serve as the irony soaked truth of the generation. Now I'm not going to pretend with the addition of the zombies, the combat training of the Bennet sisters, and a country on apocalyptic lock down, the changes aren't obvious and quite blatant. It's just that the world Steers has helped fashion comes across just as coherent and believable as a back drop to tell the story as the original does. It's 18th century England, there's zombies, what of it?
So what of this Pride and Prejudice interpretation? Well, truth be told, I don't really know what I'm talking about. I've never read it, never watched a film or TV interpretation. In fact I'm a little out of my depth; but fortunately I have an in-house expert; Mrs WTD who I've persuaded to give her thoughts… (I added the pink)...
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is true to the spirit of the original Austen work, and to the more famous set-piece dialogue. And, well, it's loads of fun and I can't help thinking Jane Austen would have approved. Most of all it's true to the characters. The Bennet sisters are feisty young things who challenge the patriarchal and class status quo - check. And they are highly trained marshal artists who kill zombies - HELLA YEAH! Mrs Bennet and Mr Collins retain the same comedic qualities as in the original, and as for Wickham... Well, I knew they'd got him right when half way through the film Mr WTD declared "Poor Wickham, he's the real good character here, that Darcy is a complete git!" The exact same reaction I had to the book age 14, BOOM! And yes, Burr Steers, all we ladies of a certain age did notice the call-back to the Colin Firth wet shirt scene, thanks for that. It's a romp, so's Pride and Prejudice, but this romp has zombies in it. It's all good!
In the post Walking Dead world it's no real surprise to find the zombies particularly gruesome and bloody, but it was interesting to find such a detailed, alternative and fleshed out sub-narrative. As the film progresses the binary them and us / alive and zombie demarcation starts to collapse. Already aware zombification takes time, with one's will and self eroding slowly, we later start exploring through Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston) a strange in-between world and state, with the undead able to ward off their final surrender by substituting pigs brain for human. However it's here we can be most picky; as just as quickly are these themes introduced they're painfully abandoned as if being saved for a sequel we're unlikely to ever get, or the bumpy ride the film went through (four directors and script writers) finally took its toll. Maybe Burr Steers who rewrote it again, remarking he had reinserted 'all the Pride and Prejudice beats' saw all this as too off track, which begs why it was here at all?
Ultimately whether Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is for you, is the same as asking if Pride and Prejudice is; as blood and guts aside for vast periods of time you'd not be mistaken for thinking they are really one and the same. The second aspect to take into account is whether you're for or against the whole zombie thing, though this isn't so pertinent in my eyes as you are here on a zombie film blog. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a truly unique parody film; running as it is with an audaciously silly premise, yet played sombre and dead-pan with its sophisticated humour tied in with its heritage and not exploited because of. Brilliantly conceived and sumptuously presented; it's a meta-farce (if that makes sense) that works precisely because it owns its own palpable irony. It's a walking talking unspoken contradiction; it's Pride and Prejudice and fucking Zombies, and just like Mr Darcy, Elizabeth Bennett and all, we're just supposed to accept it. Madness I tell you! - 7/10.