In my Kindle library are books on theology, sci fi, fantasy, steampunk, and everything Jane Austen ever published. I’m not a particular fan of zombies (although I don’t hate them as Dev does), but when the novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies came out in 2009, I couldn’t resist. It’s faithful to the original with a healthy irreverence that respects the source material. Austen was always critical of social conventions and willing to call out hypocritical behavior. If she lived today, I honestly think she would have liked it.
Elizabeth Bennet, second of five daughters who will inherit nothing upon their father’s death, live in a Regency-era England infested with a plague that causes the dead to rise and seek brains. The girls’ father, a comfortable but not wealthy land-owner, sent them to China to learn the killing arts so they can defend themselves and their country. Their mother dreams of the day they can put away their katanas and unladylike rifles, and rely on their wealthy husbands for protection and social standing. Everyday events like walks into town and balls are interrupted with skirmishes against the unmentionables which the girls always win with little to no help from their neighbors or acquaintances.
The plot carries on fairly faithful to the book. The ball in town, Jane’s illness (which is temporarily feared to be something much worse), the ball at Netherfield, Elizabeth’s rejection of her cousin Mr. Collins, and Mr. Collins’s subsequent marriage to Elizabeth’s best friend, Charlotte. Mr. Collins’s patroness, Lady Catherine de Bourgh, is not the elderly, frail thing described in the book, but a fierce warrior whose skills Elizabeth, and all of England, respects. The argument between Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy in Charlotte’s sitting room takes on a slightly different dynamic as Elizabeth resolves to fight for the honor of her sister Jane, leading to the destruction of some of the furnishings and a corner of the fireplace mantel. But, in general, the addition of zombies doesn’t alter the plot much at all.
What was great about the book was how the deadly zombie plague was so carefully interwoven into the plot of Pride and Prejudice. The sisters’ close relationship is enhanced by their discipline and teamwork. The snottiness of the upper classes is highlighted by their insistence that training in Japan is vastly superior to that which the girls received in China. Seth Grahame-Smith’s ironic narrator is delightful. And details of the zombies serve to rip you out of the pastoral setting in a way that’s disgusting to us, but shows the everyday normalcy of the characters’ lives.
The first half of the Pride and Prejudice and Zombies movie is pretty faithful to the book. The plot is condensed, of course, and the humor of the narrator is sadly lost. Lily James (2015’s Cinderella) makes for a good Lizzie, and Sam Riley (Maleficent’s crow) is properly brooding as Darcy. Lizzie and Jane’s sisters and mother aren’t quite as ridiculous as you might be used to, and Matt Smith (Doctor Who) actually makes Mr. Collins almost sympathetic. But halfway through, the plot goes in a completely different direction. It’s not bad. It actually adds a depth that the original lacked, making the movie more interesting and modern. As a fan of the original and the mashed up off-shoot, I liked it.
One improvement in particular is the change in Lady Catherine. In the original book as well as the rewrite, she is the epitome of high class and thoroughly rejects Lizzie based on principle. In the film, once she witnesses Lizzie’s fighting skills, she pulls a Taylor-Swift-girl-squad, turns all grrrl power, and welcomes Lizzie as an equal.
But I wish they’d had more respect for their own plot line. I wish they had made the movie true to the book, and then come back with a sequel that included and expounded on the tangent plot. A few minor adjustments to the ending of the book (which would have actually matched the original better) would have set up a sequel nicely and allowed the new line the time and attention it deserved. Of course, that’s assuming a sequel would have been allowed.This is a movie about warriors killing the undead while the undead eat the living, so there’s plenty of violence (heads exploding and being crushed in, throats slit, pig brains served) and grossness (rotting flesh, snot bubbles). Bosoms heave, skirts are lifted to provide access to long knives in garter sheaths, and buttons are cut off in the heat of battle, but nothing overtly sexual. I have seen other reviews stating the film is a useless waste because the zombies can’t be pigeon-holed into a metaphor for the struggles of some disenfranchised people-group. Whatever. It’s not a social statement about class, colonialism, or karate. It’s a goofy story about Jane Austen characters being saddled with the expectations given to modern female movie characters. If you don’t hate zombies and you’re not too uptight about the classics, you’ll find it amusing.