Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is one of those movies that either you loathe or you love. It’s easy to love for the simple reason that it has the Jane Austen classic as its backbone, and then wonder why on earth did they have to overcrowd the story with the undead running amok without even trying to be scary.
I didn’t even notice that it was released in the cinemas early this year, so I was glad that I stumbled upon it on streaming TV. After going through episodes of Cosmos and The Roman Empire, and re-watching City of God, I just wanted something easy to watch, didn’t need too much focus to enjoy, and wasn’t too confronting. So PPZ was the best option; who doesn’t enjoy a good Austen story, anyway?
While at first blush, the film was confusing, I eventually ended up enjoying it. It introduces everyone’s favourite leading man in English literature, Mr Darcy, as Colonel Darcy, a knife- and sword-wielding soldier whose life’s purpose is to slay as many of the undead as he can and stop the zombie apocalypse from happening. Then we next meet the Bennet sisters whom their own father describes as “trained for combat, not in the kitchen”, such that if they’re not talking about marriage or men, they spend their time perfecting their skills in martial arts.
So the story goes through the usual plot that P&P fans have come to love, where the characters initially find it difficult to get along only to realise that the attraction between them was palpable and their affection, undeniable. Where it deviates from the original material is the introduction of Wickham as the scheming undead who leads the zombies in infecting the rest of the country at the behest of the four horsemen of the apocalypse. On the other hand, Lena Heady’s Lady Catherine de Bourgh is fabulous as the leader of the resistance, and instead of the proud grand lady in the book version, we see someone who protects the realm and takes everyone under her care…like a boss. If she’s fantastic as Cersei in Game of Thrones, then she brings a part of that character into her ladyship in this film.
It’s a little difficult to put a finger on where the movie failed (it received 42% on Rotten Tomatoes and made only $16.2 million worldwide), but a lot of critics point to the fact that there is just so much going on and the mashup of the source material with the new genre is not as tight as it should be. And with PG-13 rating, it cannot afford to be too violent, thus the result is having hordes of zombies running around looking more silly than creepy.
There is also the wonky editing and the awkward dialogue that asked much to be convincing; but in spite of it, Matt Smith as Mr Collins, Sally Phillips as Mrs Bennet and Charles Dance as Mr Bennet delivered. Even Douglas Booth is believable as the affable Mr Bingley, although how he becomes a commander of sorts in the army with only his implied training in Japan and his fortune to recommend him is confusing.
I enjoyed Lily James’ (Downton Abbey, Cinderella, War and Peace) performance as the kung fu-fighting Elizabeth Bennet, while it took time for me to warm up to Sam Riley’s Darcy. It’s only until halfway through the film that I started to think, hey this raspy version of Mr Darcy is actually attractive and he *can* wield a sword (look out for the confrontation between Darcy and Wickham). Riley’s version of Darcy is not imposing, as opposed to those by Colin Firth and Matthew Macfadyen, but he does the RBF some justice and is effective as haughty yet sensitive man with a killer instinct. Too bad, they cut the “wet shirt” scene, similar to the one for which Colin Firth became a bona fide sex symbol as Mr Darcy in 1990’s BBC adaptation of the novel. Sam Riley has mainly been working in indie movies (Byzantium, Suite Francaise, On the Road), so he comes as a relative unknown playing such a famous character. It would be nice to see him in more projects since he does have the acting chops and even received praise from critics for his portrayal of Joy Division’s Ian Curtis in Control in 2007.
Pride and Prejudice as a novel is so well-formed on its own, which is why it has become the perfect template for generations of romantic movies. Dozens of reserved/snobbish hero and judgemental/clumsy heroines over the years have tripped over themselves in their quest to find true love, and in the case of PPZ, it’s the battle of wits and fists between Darcy and Lizzy that prove to be the ultimate foreplay. Undoubtedly, PPZ also the sexiest Pride and Prejudice movie yet.
In spite of its shortcomings, the film is, overall, enjoyable. It’s fun and sweet as it’s supposed to be; it has the “kilig” element that we all look for in a romantic movie. It might even make better sense to watch the film a second time to truly enjoy it.
In Australia, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is streaming on Stan.