Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Guest Post by Katharine Adamyk

I’m a certified Jane Austen nerd (no, really, I took a class) and while I enjoy  retellings of her work, I’m fairly picky about both period films and book adaptations in general.  It’s clear from the outset that this is neither a faithful adaptation of Pride and Prejudice nor historically accurate (for example, there are… zombies).  Because of this, most things that would normally turn me off of a P&P adaptation are either part of the fascinating world building or excusable anyway.  It’s not a great literary movie (and I’m guessing it’s not a great zombie movie) but this undead/English classic mashup is still a lot of fun.

One of the things that kept me from reading the book was its hybrid makeup of 85% Austen’s original text and 15% added zombies, which sounded not only sacrilegious but awkward.  I can’t speak for the book (yet), but the film does feel oddly spliced together, especially in the beginning. There simply isn’t enough time to sufficiently develop both aspects of the characters and plot line.  If the book does this better it might have been better served by a mini series or even full length TV adaptation.  I suspect this is especially true for those less obsessed familiar with Pride and Prejudice.

That said, there are some really delightful moments where the genres clash just right.  When the Bingleys and their guests discuss what it means to be a truly accomplished woman, Elizabeth Bennett’s extensive knowledge of martial arts and the Art of War leads to a Darcy beat down that made me laugh out loud on a plane.  The narratively crucial encampment of soldiers at Merryton actually makes more sense in the context of the “unmentionables” roaming the countryside.  Verbal sparring between Elizabeth and Darcy is integral in every adaptation of P&P, but it’s surprisingly satisfying to see them actually spar. With spinning kicks! And swords!

While I was briefly disappointed in hearing that we narrowly missed out on Natalie Portman as Elizabeth, I thought that Lily James was great, along with the majority of the cast. My only gripe is that everyone is a little too beautiful and chiseled for any sense of realism. I cannot be convinced that no one wants to marry Matt Smith.

Some of the characters are also a bit confused by their contrasting roles (Mary Bennett as a zombie fighter comes to mind), but by and large they manage to stick closely to the originals while adding small complimentary twists.

My fear with this kind of project is always that it will end up as a bundle of cheap shots at the novel someone thinks Pride and Prejudice is – a cheesy romance without any of Austen’s witty family portraits or sarcastic social commentary.  While there is undoubtedly some loss of nuance in the hurry to get through the plot – plus an unforgivable bungling of an iconic line – there is some real Austen DNA in this movie.  Besides quotes that appear verbatim, the setting heightens rather than glosses over important themes.  For a modern audience,  the zombie threat illuminates both the independence Lizzie would give up in marriage and the security Charlotte gains in hers.  The zombies and country dances also eventually blend into an integrated storyline that made me doubt my prejudices towards characters I’ve been reading about for a decade.

When Darcy [200 year old spoiler alert] professes his love for Elizabeth, he says, “I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.” So it was with P&P&Z – I began watching a gimmick and somehow ended up in the middle of a surprisingly touching and engaging story, with a bunch of fun world-building moments to boot. I can’t wait to get my hands on the book. (And the sequel. And the prequel. And that TV series? Please?)

3 out of 4 stars.

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