Movie Review: 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

01 April 2016 - 02:33 By Helen O'Hara

Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice is universally acknowledged as a classic. So, in a very different way, are the zombie films of George A Romero.
You can see why Hollywood spent years attempting to adapt the novel that combined the two, Seth Grahame-Smith's 2009 bestseller Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. This low-budget but glossy British effort is the final result.
The sheer novelty of taking Austen's world and throwing in zombies seems to have worked for the book. But the truth is that it never really lived up to the barmy promise of its title: Grahame-Smith simply lifted huge swathes of Austen's text, onto which he grafted an unnecessarily complicated zombie plot that distracted from her far superior story. The filmmakers, meanwhile, haven't worked out a way to solve any of their source material's problems.
WATCH the trailer for Pride and Prejudice and ZombiesIn this England, the aristocracy fights the undead while the populace suffers their predations, and Lizzie Bennet (Lily James) and Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) fall in love while beheading zombies.
The pity of it is that there's a very good version of Austen in here somewhere. Director Burr Steers showed a knack for the comedy of manners with Igby Goes Down, his 2002 study of the fraught family dynamics of East Coast blue-bloods, and he casts Austen's story beautifully.
Riley is an uptight, preoccupied Darcy, whose leather coat (the better to withstand zombie teeth, one assumes) gives him the air of a rock star. James, meanwhile, is a fiercely independent and intensely charismatic Lizzie. Since most of today's ''strong female characters" were based on her archetype, it feels almost natural to find this young lady cutting down her foes with blades instead of words.
The problem is that the movie grinds to a halt with every guttural groan. The decaying corpses certainly look the part, but these monsters can talk, think and apparently co-ordinate military assaults - not just a slap in the face for zombie purists but a tedious source of over-complication for the plot.
Steers attempts a social allegory, with the rich fortifying their houses and the poor left to suffer, which Austen might rather have enjoyed. But it seems unlikely that she would have taken seriously the film's notion that only the rich are capable of fighting back; conservative she may have been, but mindlessly subservient she was not. And the idea that Lady Catherine DeBourgh (Lena Headey), the original book's villain, would be the country's most fearsome zombie fighter will enrage Austen fans.
If it had been more elegant in its storytelling, it could have been a fun genre crossover, but the best efforts of Steers and his cast can't turn the overstuffed book into a film that makes any real sense. Whenever it tries to develop its undead mythology, it becomes fatally bogged down - which is the last thing you need when facing an oncoming zombie horde.
WHAT OTHERS SAY

There's something unearned and charmless and pointless about it all - Peter Bradshaw, theguardian.com
Not deficient in old-fashioned costume drama when it pleases, nor in the power of being clever where it chooses, but awkward and unsatisfying. - Andrew Barker, variety.com
Funny? Sometimes. Scary? Never. PP&Z spins merrily and menacingly along for about half an hour. Bad luck that the movie's running time is 107 minutes. - Peter Travers, rollingstone.com..

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