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, emerging as a distinct classic. While I respect this, and understand its the rational, I’m not bothered by creative liberties taken with classic literature. Or at least I haven’t been.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies (2016) Film Review
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 circumstances; a mysterious illness infects citizens of Meryton. Against this rising force the Bennet’s must fight against the zombies that walk 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 begin a sparring relationship that inspires Lizzy to 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 adore (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 love the set up (Darcy in an epic duster coat SLAYS THINGS) and the fact that the opening credits is a kind of “story time.”
Then once the first 15 minutes or thereabout pass, the story hits a stalemate. This is part of the reason I shut the film off 30-40 minutes in. The script bookends itself to complement the novel whereas some of the middle portions widely differ, and I feel like this creates a 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 takes a 180 turn for the better. I became enthralled with the latter portion.
Where to begin? To allow myself to share all of my fangirl feels would take a number of pages because, yes, I do have that positive of a feeling. 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, and it’s pleasant to see Douglas Booth (Romeo and Juliet, Great Expectations)in something again.
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 allude to, I did love the opening sequence (which the dude commands), but as the film progresses, I doubt him a number of times. That said, I think by the end, I lean more in the “approve” camp and suspect with subsequent viewings I’ll be Team Darcy as played by Riley.
I shall never relinquish my sword for a ring. – Lizzy Bennet
Looking beyond the cast, the rest of the production sparkles with magic, comedy and romance. The costumes are beautiful with unique elements like the use of familiar patterns and style juxtaposed to create a steampunk vibe. The atmosphere is overall, dark, 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 approve of these changes though to say more would spoil the effect, so I won’t.
ROMANTIC MOMENT OF THE WEEK | Lizzy Bennet and Col. Fitzwilliam Darcy
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, fans of Matt Smith should see this merely for his portrayal of Collins. True this isn’t as masterfully romantic (because of time constraints) and the zombie attacks could have done with fewer numbers, but I’d argue the final romantic scene between Darcy and Lizzy holds its own quite beautifully. (Plus it’s this that won me over to Riley’s Darcy.) That, for me, is quite enough to overcome any minor disagreements. It makes me look at characters with fresh eyes, which I respect, and gives us plenty to love.
Everything from the Bennet women sitting in a parlor cleaning muskets and Mrs. Bennet’s compliments of Lady Catherine’s pantaloons (yes, this happens) to the final swoony moment, this is fun. It’s a creative, witty gem of a costume drama. Though not fit for everyone, is a delight from beginning to end for those of us OK when the rules bend 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 innuendo. The film is PG13.