It is only right to begin with a few disclaimers. First, I—and members of the Southwest Washington–Northwest Oregon regional chapter of JASNA—was invited to a free screening of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, tonight (1-13-2016). Second, I have not read the book. I have read all of Jane Austen’s major novels, those unfinished, and her letters; I mention this because it is important to enjoying this movie (or not…maybe better I didn’t know?). Third, I know little of the zombie genre. Last, I attended with my BFF, Jacky; we felt strongly a couple of cocktails beforehand were advisable. I mention this because once we started to lose our buzz about 2/3 of the way through, our attitude and the movie took a turn for the worst. One of us should have brought a flask.
An added bit of whimsy to the event was the presence of six young men from the Madison High School (SE Portland) film class. While I was in the loo pre-film, Jacky chatted them up, and they were into a convivial discussion when I returned. None of them had read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Two had seen P&P 2005. All had read P&P&Z, and their assignment was to compare the characterizations from the P&P&Z book versus the movie. Jacky and I lost it at that, and after glaring at their teacher, explained that most of what they were about to see was NOTHING like Jane Austen had written. One of the boys said he hoped seeing THIS movie would help him understand Pride and Prejudice, which he planned to start tomorrow. In a jovial manner, Jacky and I (well, mostly me) razzed them about confusing bad movies with great literature. I told the boys that I would fist-pump when I heard any unadulterated Austen, so they would know. I did so once.
The premise of the movie is that the Bennet sisters have been raised by Mr. Bennet to be Amazon-like zombie-fighting warrior women. Mr. Bennet is played by one of my favorite British actors, Charles Dance (and please, he would prefer it pronounced Dahnce, not Dantz). This is the niftiest casting in the movie. I mention this because the only unmodified Jane Austen in the entire movie is the Mr. Bennet saving Lizzy from having to marry Mr. Collins scene. Unlike many JAFF writers, I adore Mr. Bennet for all his flaws, and this was where I was fist-pumping.
The screenplay followed much of Jane Austen’s plot. There was a Meryton assembly, Jane sick at Netherfield (with a fun bit of business for Lizzy when Darcy visits the sickroom to make sure Jane isn’t turning into a zombie), a Netherfield Ball, refusing Mr. Collins, visit to Hunsford, and so on. The set pieces were inter-laced with fighting off zombies. Naturally, every other sentence has “zombie” in it. Those lines that do not were stolen from Andrew Davies (especially Darcy’s Hunsford proposal). I hope he is getting a percentage. It was a surprise hearing some of JA’s more famous bon mots in her letters—most audiences aren’t going to know what lines are direct quotes from Austen in life and will search P&P a long time to find them. The most glaring, mind-bending annoyance was during Darcy’s second proposal to Lizzy, when he quotes the climactic portion of Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Mind you, I was sober then, and could not laugh at it.
Some of you will want to know about the costumes. For the most part the women’s clothing was well done, far better than in P&P 2005. Yes, there is a man-teasing scene as the five Bennets dress for the Meryton assembly, and one sees lots of bare thigh over stockings as daggers are inserted into scabbards before gowns are donned. Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet is light and pleasing, corseted and breathless, working her fluttering bosom to good effect. She goes sleeker when she knows she is about to fight, but it’s a zombie movie, so I was ready for that. Soldier uniforms were little better than from a child’s wooden soldier set—nothing swoon-worthy. Jane was lovely and fiesty; Bingley was more earnest than typical, and other than a bit of dithering in the end when he should have been blowing stuff up, he was acceptable.
Which brings us to Sam Riley as Darcy. Other than the send-up of Colin Firth—when this Darcy obviously does his own stunt diving into a presumably cleaner pond than that offered to Firth—this Darcy wears a heavy black leather great coat throughout. It squeaked and creaked and I assure you only the deafest zombie would miss this guy coming. The effect was much more Zorro than zombie-fighter. Sam Riley played Darcy as pissed off. No smokey stares at Lizzy, no smirks at her wit, no beseeching eyes as he proposed. His voice was gravelly. Maybe this was supposed to make him seem more sincere and serious. Nope…this Darcy was unhappy and taking it out on zombies and shrubbery (horticulturists be advised: many topiary were irreparably maimed in the making of this movie).
As for Lady Catherine de Bourgh… Perhaps the intent was to go for some sort of S&M queen, but that lane was never wandered down despite her look. The actress was a little young to have the gravitas necessary. She was supposed to be the finest lady zombie warrior in England, but she never so much as lifts a butter knife. She has an eye patch, but we have no backstory as to why. She and Lizzy have their little pissing contest, but then Lady Catherine turns around and protects the Bennet family at Rosings while Jane and Lizzy are off fighting zombies in the movie’s final battle. All in all, not enough was done with Lady Catherine; miscast and poorly written.
Why even two stars? Well, the costumes were fun and mostly right, minus Darcy’s leather. And, Lizzy and Darcy get into a brawl during the Hunsford proposal that was somehow, oddly, wholly believable and well-staged. If just that scene shows up on youtube, you will have seen the best part.
Other trying observations: no Colonel Fitzwilliam! Shocking! No mention of the Hursts, so alas, no hursting. Mary Bennet gets two zinger lines early on giving me hope for the younger sisters, but this did not last. Mrs. Bennet wasn’t Mrs. Bennet enough. Caroline Bingley did and said so little, one wonders why they included her. There isn’t much to say about Wickham except he’s a trifle handsomer than Darcy, which is never good. As stated, I don’t know much about zombies, but these seemed extremely easy to kill, and once a zombie was dead, it stayed dead… funny, I thought there was more to it than that. Most of them were CGI, so one was tempted to whisper in Lizzy’s worried little ears, “Hit delete a few times, dear, and it will all go away.”
Now we are to the end. There was the double wedding, some kissing, and roll credits. The teenage boys sitting behind us went wild, crying, “No sex!?” Jacky and I laughed and said, “Just like Jane Austen wrote it, only this had kissing—a wedding and you’re out.” But as we stood gathering hats and coats, an audaciously lame spoiler for a sequel roared onto the screen. The audience groaned.