Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Many ideas sound much better than they turn out to be.  This universal truth, as well as terrible advertising in the U.S., conspired to kill Pride and Prejudice and Zombies before it even got released.  That, and the title is way too close to one of the worst big-budget disasters of all time, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.

Both movies come from books, and both books got good reviews despite the outrageousness of the plots (basically, the titles say it all).  Only the Abraham Lincoln one took itself, and its subject matter, absolutely serious.  The original Pride and Prejudice, a classic novel by Jane Austen that deals with upper class trials and tribulations and a young woman's reluctance to marry, was not that serious at all, so adding zombies is questionable at best.

Well, lo and behold, the film adaptation is no cinematic masterpiece - I don't even expect it to become a cult film - but it is much better than can be expected.

England, for a number of years, has been experiencing a zombie plague.  London is walled off and, further out, a giant mote called the Grand Canal has been built.  Previously accessed by a number of bridges, all have been destroyed except one.  Most of the zombies are contained in a place called the In-Between, meaning between London's wall and the Grand Canal.  The outer areas are home to a number of wealthy, fortified estates.

Mr. Bennet (Charles Dance) is one of those landowners, and his wife (Sally Phillips) is concerned about the family fortune.  Mr. Bennet's fortunes will go to the state when he dies, so it is up to his five daughters to marry well.  The opportunity comes for the eldest daughter, Jane (Bella Heathcote) with the arrival of a handsome young bachelor named Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth).  They do hit it off, but Bingley's best friend, Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) is suspicious of the Bennets' intentions.  However, he is quickly falling for Jane's sister Elizabeth (Lily James), who is the strongest fighter and most headstrong of the bunch.

Unfortunately, the one who seems most interested, at least initially, in marrying Elizabeth is Parson Collins (Matt Smith), an effete clergyman who is a distant cousin of the Bennets and a good friend of Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Heady), one of the richest landowners and a renowned zombie killer.  Elizabeth manages to rebuff the advances of both of them, but does start to sympathize with George Wickham (Jack Huston), a young lieutenant who claims to have been cheated out of his fortune by Darcy.

All the girls were sent to China by their father to train in martial arts and the skill of war, and put those skills to good use when the ball they attend at Netherfield is attacked by zombies.  The family there, along with Mr. Bingley, soon move out at Darcy's behest, further angering Elizabeth as she thinks her sister has been purposely slighted.

Wickham also tries to woo her, but she decides to hold back.  He does, however, introduce her to a group of zombie aristocrats who feast on pig's brains instead of human ones, thus retaining most of their humanity.  The zombies only become feral and dangerous after their first taste of human brains.

What Wickham proposes to Lady Catherine is a peace treaty with the undead, as they will continue to grow in number and soon overtake the living.  She and Darcy both scoff at the idea, much to Elizabeth's dismay.  Shortly afterward, what appears to be coordinated zombie attacks destroys London and begins to threaten the countryside.  Darcy hatches on a plan to contain them, which involves blowing up Hingham Bridge, the last connection across the Grand Canal.  He also slowly wins Elizabeth's affections as she realizes the truth in the conflict between him and Wickham and Darcy's actions in protecting his friend Bingley.

When I saw the advertisements, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter is what I immediately thought.  That movie was was an over-serious CGI mess that trivialized the Civil War.  Pride and Prejudice and Zombies was marketed in the United States as something similar.  The hint that there was any humor in the movie was downplayed and it was presented as another rote zombie film.  The time of the year it opened is also typically the time stuff gets dumped into a theater with hope that no one notices, and, generally, no one did.

In truth, it's as if Jane Austen, in an alternative past where they had to deal with a zombie plague, wrote her famous comedy of manners.  It still follows many of the same plot points as the original novel, although the movie itself differs in many ways from the parody novel that is its own source material.  The fact the zombies are just there are not a problem with me, as they are part of the landscape of this version of England.

The zombies in this particular film are the brain-eating kind, but are easily destructible by destroying the brain like Romero zombies.  They also retain their human intelligence while they are rotting away, which for Elizabeth creates a bit of a moral quandary.  It's the one zombie aspect that should have been explored further, but is unfortunately undone to tie up parts of the final battle.

Both Lily James and Sam Riley are good as the leads in this, with her refusal to follow certain norms as well as his to bend from the path he has chosen.  The other characters, though played well, are rather flat, so it's hard to get too emotionally involved with them.  The other standout is Matt Smith.  Parson Collins is one of those insufferable characters that Jane Austen brings to life, and Smith seems to be one of the few actors that seem to know how he should be playing the role.

My other problem is too many of the auxiliary characters are way too pretty in a tween romance kind of way.  Everyone looks a bit too modern.

It's still quite fun, with a number of good action sequences and quite a lot done on a rather low budget. 

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)
Time: 108 minutes
Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Jack Huston
Director: Burr Steers


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