Gwen Reyes// Critic
Most American high school students have been forced to read Jane Austen’s PRIDE AND PREJUDICE, a classic romance that has captured the attention of readers for over 200 years, but when you force a student to read anything the great prose and sumptuous story can often get lost in the aftermath associated with require reading. Young readers do not like to be told what to do, and although the story of Elizabeth Bennet and Mr. Fitzwilliam Darcy has endured as one of the most beloved couplings, a stigma still attaches itself to the lofty tome. This is a “dry” book with followers whose heads are “in the clouds” when it comes to romance. But that’s what great about it; that feeling you get when you fall in love for the first time with Lizzie and Mr. Darcy is addictive.
Now, fast forward to today and we can’t just read or watch PRIDE AND PREJUDICE without wondering what sort of extreme obstacles could get in the way of the blossoming love between these two headstrong youngings. They’ve battled societal pressures, nutty mothers, self-absorbed aunts, and themselves, but they always find their way to each other. But what happens when you throw the walking dead into the mix and make Lizzie and Darcy two of the greatest zombie fighters in the British Kingdom? You get the literary mash-up PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES, which is out in theaters today.
The film follows the timeline of its traditional inspiration, and although it was a book itself, the film truly inhabits the same space as Austen’s original work. We meet Darcy (Sam Riley) early on as he presents himself to a small dinner party as the savior they didn’t know they needed. The world has become accustomed to the zombie plague and now many citizens live cloistered lives in their large homesteads rather than venturing out. Darcy stops by, leather squeaking, to let the owners of the home know that one of their guests has become afflicted. Obviously they do not believe him, but he quickly proves his knowledge true and sniffs out the dreaded rotten flesh before it is too late. What follows is a fairly gross, yet utterly enjoyable, zombie massacre that just barely opens the door to future gruesome slayings. Don’t worry; they are all in good fun. And zombies aren’t really people, anyway.
Lizzie (Lily James) lives a quiet life with her family. Well, as quiet as a household of trained zombie fighters can live. She and her sisters are beautiful and powerful and the talk of the town. They are adored by most who know them, and quickly the eldest sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) catches the eye of new neighbor Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) at a ball. The pair fall quickly for each other, and even though Bingley soon proves himself to be basically useless when it comes to zombie killing, Jane desires him. Alas, just as in Austen’s original, his best friend Darcy disapproves of the pairing and quickly separates them. Darcy has his own stuff to deal with, since he is battling his feelings for Elizabeth AND battling the zombie scourge.
Riley plays Darcy with an odd, almost Alan Rickman-esque stiffness. He is more Snape than he is romantic hero. Maybe it’s the leather he drenches himself in, but he just feels so out of place in the role. James and Riley do have chemistry, but it would be unjust to say she wouldn’t have chemistry with a paper sack. She is charming and he is just too angsty. They do match up during the battle scenes, which are amusingly terrifying and intense. The pair complete each other when it comes to battling zombies and in those scenes they shine.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is very enjoyable and makes Austen accessible for those who many have shied away from a period piece with kissing. The battle scenes always outdo each other, which is an impressive feat that not all action films can accomplish. You know how it ends, but the ride is always satisfying.
PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES is in theaters today.