Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a review (two stars)

It is only right to begin with a few disclaimers. First, I—and  members of the Southwest Washington–Northwest Oregon regional chapter of JASNA—was invited to a free screening of “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”, tonight (1-13-2016). Second, I have not read the book. I have read all of Jane Austen’s major novels, those unfinished, and her letters; I mention this because it is important to enjoying this movie (or not…maybe better I didn’t know?). Third, I  know little of the zombie genre. Last, I attended with my BFF, Jacky; we felt strongly a couple of cocktails beforehand were advisable. I mention this because once we started to lose our buzz about 2/3 of the way through, our attitude and the movie took a turn for the worst. One of us should have brought a flask.


An added bit of whimsy to the event was the presence of six young men from the Madison High School (SE Portland) film class. While I was in the loo pre-film, Jacky chatted them up, and they were into a convivial discussion when I returned. None of them had read Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen. Two had seen P&P 2005. All had read P&P&Z, and their assignment was to compare the characterizations from the P&P&Z book versus the movie. Jacky and I lost it at that, and after glaring at their teacher, explained that most of what they were about to see was NOTHING like Jane Austen had written. One of the boys said he hoped seeing THIS movie would help him understand Pride and Prejudice, which he planned to start tomorrow. In a jovial manner, Jacky and I (well, mostly me) razzed them about confusing bad movies with great literature. I told the boys that I would fist-pump when I heard any unadulterated Austen, so they would know. I did so once.

The premise of the movie is that the Bennet sisters have been raised by Mr. Bennet to be Amazon-like zombie-fighting warrior women. Mr. Bennet is played by one of my favorite British actors, Charles Dance (and please, he would prefer it pronounced Dahnce, not Dantz). This is the niftiest casting in the movie. I mention this because the only unmodified Jane Austen in the entire movie is the Mr. Bennet saving Lizzy from having to marry Mr. Collins scene. Unlike many JAFF writers, I adore Mr. Bennet for all his flaws, and this was where I was fist-pumping.

The screenplay followed much of Jane Austen’s plot. There was a Meryton assembly, Jane sick at Netherfield (with a fun bit of business for Lizzy when Darcy visits the sickroom to make sure Jane isn’t turning into a zombie), a Netherfield Ball, refusing Mr. Collins, visit to Hunsford, and so on. The set pieces were inter-laced with fighting off zombies. Naturally, every other sentence has “zombie” in it. Those lines that do not were stolen from Andrew Davies (especially Darcy’s Hunsford proposal). I hope he is getting a percentage. It was a surprise hearing some of JA’s more famous bon mots in her letters—most audiences aren’t going to know what lines are direct quotes from Austen in life and will search P&P a long time to find them. The most glaring, mind-bending annoyance was during Darcy’s second proposal to Lizzy, when he quotes the climactic portion of Captain Wentworth’s letter to Anne Elliot in Persuasion. Mind you, I was sober then, and could not laugh at it.

Some of you will want to know about the costumes. For the most part the women’s clothing was well done, far better than in P&P 2005. Yes, there is a man-teasing scene as the five Bennets dress for the Meryton assembly, and one sees lots of bare thigh over stockings as daggers are inserted into scabbards before gowns are donned. Lily James as Elizabeth Bennet is light and pleasing, corseted and breathless, working her fluttering bosom to good effect. She goes sleeker when she knows she is about to fight, but it’s a zombie movie, so I was ready for that. Soldier uniforms were little better than from a child’s wooden soldier set—nothing swoon-worthy. Jane was lovely and fiesty; Bingley was more earnest than typical, and other than a bit of dithering in the end when he should have been blowing stuff up, he was acceptable.

Which brings us to Sam Riley as Darcy. Other than the send-up of Colin Firth—when this Darcy obviously does his own stunt diving into a presumably cleaner pond than that offered to Firth—this Darcy wears a heavy black leather great coat throughout. It squeaked and creaked and I assure you only the deafest zombie would miss this guy coming. The effect was much more Zorro than zombie-fighter. Sam Riley played Darcy as pissed off. No smokey stares at Lizzy, no smirks at her wit, no beseeching eyes as he proposed. His voice was gravelly. Maybe this was supposed to make him seem more sincere and serious. Nope…this Darcy was unhappy and taking it out on zombies and shrubbery (horticulturists be advised: many topiary were irreparably maimed in the making of this movie).

As for Lady Catherine de Bourgh… Perhaps the intent was to go for some sort of S&M queen, but that lane was never wandered down despite her look. The actress was a little young to have the gravitas necessary. She was supposed to be the finest lady zombie warrior in England, but she never so much as lifts a butter knife. She has an eye patch, but we have no backstory as to why. She and Lizzy have their little pissing contest, but then Lady Catherine turns around and protects the Bennet family at Rosings while Jane and Lizzy are off fighting zombies in the movie’s final battle. All in all, not enough was done with Lady Catherine; miscast and poorly written.

Why even two stars? Well, the costumes were fun and mostly right, minus Darcy’s leather. And, Lizzy and Darcy get into a brawl during the Hunsford proposal that was somehow, oddly, wholly believable and well-staged. If just that scene shows up on youtube, you will have seen the best part.

Other trying observations: no Colonel Fitzwilliam! Shocking! No mention of the Hursts, so alas, no hursting. Mary Bennet gets two zinger lines early on giving me hope for the younger sisters, but this did not last. Mrs. Bennet wasn’t Mrs. Bennet enough. Caroline Bingley did and said so little, one wonders why they included her. There isn’t much to say about Wickham except he’s a trifle handsomer than Darcy, which is never good. As stated, I don’t know much about zombies, but these seemed extremely easy to kill, and once a zombie was dead, it stayed dead… funny, I thought there was more to it than that. Most of them were CGI, so one was tempted to whisper in Lizzy’s worried little ears, “Hit delete a few times, dear, and it will all go away.”

Now we are to the end. There was the double wedding, some kissing, and roll credits. The teenage boys sitting behind us went wild, crying, “No sex!?” Jacky and I laughed and said, “Just like Jane Austen wrote it, only this had kissing—a wedding and you’re out.” But as we stood gathering hats and coats, an audaciously lame spoiler for a sequel roared onto the screen. The audience groaned.

7 Responses

  1. Sheila L. M.

    Well, I did read all three books but only b/c the movie was coming out. The main book uses 90% of Jane Austen’s P&P so she should be collecting royalties. The 3rd book of the three was the best. I was happy to read your review as I do plan to go see the movie. I am sure that there will be lots of buzz on the internet about it and I want my share of the conversation. I would not have read the books and can’t really recommend them but I did want the background. Thanks for your input. Wish I had a friend to go with me. Shame on that English teacher!!! Badly done.

  2. Claudine Pepe

    That’s too bad! I really wanted to love this one. I’ll still attend a viewing near me, but now my hopes won’t be as high.

    Thanks for the review.

  3. christina

    I am still going to see it. There is a lot of published JAFF that does nothing but put Austen’s names on characters, throw in a few familiar lines, and poof, call it Austenesque. The book was campy. I like some WWZ and Walking Dead…so I’m still going in with an open mind. Darcy isn’t supposed to be as handsome as Wickham. It’s part of how Wickham so easily turns Lizzy’s head. But since you didn’t like it, be glad at least you didn’t pay money. Unlike the nearly $60 I had to shell out to take the family to see the StarWars mashup of all previous StarWars movies just with new faces. I’ll come back and comment after I’ve seen PPZ.

  4. Julie P.

    I saw it last night as part of a group of 5 people (3 of us are die-hard Janeites) and we absolutely loved it. Matt Smith has put himself into the discussion of who is the best Mr. Collins ever. My friends and I laughed so hard we almost choked. One of our number is going to see it at another free screening next week. I won’t because that one’s too far from home, but I liked it enough that I’ll be paying to see it when it opens for real.

    You seem to be disappointed that it was not closer to P&P95. Personally, I did not go into it expecting (or even wanting!) it to be like P&P95. First off, I don’t idolize Andrew Davies and I don’t love his take on the novel. Second, I actually do like P&P05 (which is set in 1797, when the earliest drafts of First Impressions were written, so the clothing worn by the actors is indeed period correct). I howled with laughter at the pond scene because I despise the one in P&P95 so much that seeing it in PPZ showed me just how OTT this movie was meant to be.

    Yes, I’d figured out the Wickham plot twist early-ish on, but it did not spoil my enjoyment at all — in fact, I was looking forward to seeing how the whole thing was handled.

    As for Lady Catherine, not all Lady Catherines are doddering old biddies. The Lady C in the BBC’s 1980 version of P&P is rather an active busy-body. She’s not an indolent woman on a throne. She’s someone you can really picture dragging her poor coachman and horses 50+ miles to Longbourn to scold that social-climbing Elizabeth Bennet. This Lady C is in the same vein. Perfect casting, IMO.

    As for Charles Dance, we don’t see very much of him in this movie. But I actually like him better than I do Austen’s Mr. Bennet. I don’t find Austen’s character to be very likable. He’s a terrible husband and father. He treats his wife like dirt in front of their children. He’s witty, to be sure, but it’s a very bitter, mean wit that is meant to hurt. This Mr. Bennet cares enough about his daughters to send them to school to improve their warrior skills. Austen’s Mr. Bennet wouldn’t do anything of the sort. He’s too busy feeling sorry for himself in his library.

    All in all, it is my belief that this was never meant to be a serious take on P&P. It’s a COMEDY, pure and simple. My recommendation? Sit back and enjoy. It’s hilarious.

    • Lee Lu

      Nice to read two impressions of the movie. I have a feeling my twisted sense of humor will be on par with yours.

      • Julie P.

        My sense of humor is nothing if not twisted!

  5. Sophia Rose

    Hmm, and this leaves me still dithering whether I want to do zombies or not. Appreciate your break down of it all.