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Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies | Lily James, Bella Heathcote, Sam Riley, Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Matt Smith, Jack Huston | Review

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Jacqueline  Monahan

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Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
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Pride and Prejudice and Zombies | Lily James, Bella Heathcote, Sam Riley, Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Matt Smith, Jack Huston | Review

Personal pride and social prejudices collide even more with a new underclass to consider.

The ultra-polite, refined, and elegant elite of Regency era England find themselves gnawed upon by rotting undead corpses; when they are, they transform into one of the creatures themselves.  How very inelegant!  Most distasteful for everyone but the zombies, who have a taste for fresh, living brains.  The country is under siege by a plague, London is a walled fortress, and there is a dangerous region called the In-Between in this alternate universe. Jane Austen’s characters, though, are delightfully intact.

Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips) have five unmarried daughters, a female status almost as dire as that of the undead at that time.  The genteel young women are sent, not to finishing school, but to Finish-Them-Off school in China, for Marshal Arts training with Shaolin masters.  Fluent in dagger, sword and musket, the sisters spar with each other when they’re not at tea or receiving guests.

Jane (Bella Heathcote) Elizabeth (Lily James) Catherine (Suki Waterhouse) Mary (Millie Brady) and Lydia (Ellie Bamber) attend a ball at the estate of rich, eligible bachelor Mr. Bingley (Doulas Booth).  He falls for Jane, although his friend, the famed zombie-killer Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley) disapproves.  Elizabeth dislikes the arrogant Darcy; he perceives her family to be beneath Bingley’s social strata…
---cue zombies.

Writer/director Burr Steers (Charlie St. Cloud) shares a writing credit with Ms. Austen in this adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s 2009 novel, (based on her 1813 novel) adding a horde of undead co-stars to the empire-waist-and-riding-boot trials and tribulations of class and manners during the very early 1800’s.  Along with the observances of almost ridiculous formalities, there are brain-eating, fast-moving creatures to contend with.  A good marriage and a fortress is all a girl needs to be fulfilled, after all.

There are bonnets and there is bloodshed.  There is the dashing Mr. Darcy and the independent, need-no-man Elizabeth Bennet.  The stricken, as the zombies are sometimes referred, attack with a ferocious speed – mostly.  Some even go to church, a discovery that soldier George Wickham (Jack Huston) reveals to Elizabeth amid a hotbed of intrigue that includes Darcy’s aunt, Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey) a famous one-eyed zombie slayer who disapproves of any sort of female attraction toward her nephew.
 
But wait.  Doesn’t Elizabeth scoff at the haughty Darcy?  Doesn’t he discount the intrepid Elizabeth?  Don’t they clash in word (Austen) and deed (Grahame-Smith)?  Is Wickham hiding something? And who is Parson Collins (Matt Smith) to expect Elizabeth’s hand in marriage? Wickham has an axe to grind with Darcy, and in this film’s situation that could very well be literal.

Meanwhile the landed gentry are landing all over the place, felled by dead neighbors, lovers, friends and children.  How rude!  Treated as a most unfortunate nuisance, the undead roam the country side, chewing on livestock when fellow bipeds are absent.  Darcy and Elizabeth fight with words and hand-to-hand combat, not against the undead, mind you, but against each other.  Can marriage be far behind?

For their part, the actors play it straight.  James is an empire-waisted warrior, Riley, a pompous aristocrat.  Dance is a pitch-perfect patriarch, while Huston seems to summon smarm from the edge of his perfect teeth.  Heady’s character is both old and new, with an eye patch and an arsenal.  Smith, a former Dr. Who, is pure comic relief, breaking tension but no taboos.  Manners above all else, you see.

In Steers’ hands, they ARE performing Pride and Prejudice, albeit with a deadly presence among them, another burdensome societal norm that demands even more protocol than being chaperoned or courted.  Still, the hunt for a husband is paramount.  So what if a distant cousin is munching on a chambermaid upstairs, the important thing is that there are wealthy bachelors to snare.  Everyone has an appetite for something, and taste is subjective.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a fun and clever foray into a world known for its extreme etiquette juxtaposed against one where some of the inhabitants would choose not to use silverware at all, thank you very much.

I can imagine the lady of the manor shuddering in horror at the breach, saying, “I’d rather die!”  In this universe, she won’t have long to wait.

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