Don’t be fooled by the promises made by Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The public has been fed a lie that somehow new life could be injected into the well-worn Jane Austen story. Alas, this one is a stone-cold dud. Arguably, this could tarnish the name of Austen forever. What follows in an excruciatingly long and tepid 107 minutes, a hollow pastiche of both the costume drama and the zombie movie. Audiences were promised a cool remix but should really keep the bar set very low – if not prepare for death. It’s only a small blessing, then, that the classic Pride and Prejudice story is not completely lost.
The zombie outbreak is explained – in a cartoonish prologue (a warning sign of the oncoming grimness) – by Charles Dance’s Mr. Bennett. He tells his daughters that England’s rapid colonial expansion has brought back a deadly plague that nearly destroyed the whole country. This in turn led to the necessity to expertly train the populace in various modes of martial arts, a course of action Mr. Bennett took with his own daughters. And so, the Bennett sisters are masters in martial arts and manners. While the regular storyline kicks in with some neat twists – zombies derail Jane (Bella Heathcote) instead of rain on her way to Netherfield while later on Wickham (Jack Huston) woos Lily James’ Elizabeth with the promise of a human-zombie peace treaty inside an undead church – there’s scant emphasis on the zombie aspect.
We’re only casually reminded of the threat of the undead when the Bennett girls sheath daggers under their evening gowns or sling rifles over their shoulders before they walk into town. While it’s refreshing to see a world where women are built to be tough and tender – and valued all the more for being both – all goodwill is lost when nothing new can be said about characters that many of us know so well. Furthermore, it appears director Burr Steers was unable to choose original shots for his film, preferring instead to rip off or reference, depending on your definition, the classic versions. Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) comically dives into a pond when his frustration mounts, recalling the more famous Firth moment.
Elsewhere, long tracking shots through the Netherfield Ball and a supremely awkward proposal from Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) are dull riffs on Joe Wright’s 2005 adaptation. Add to this a crucial lack of chemistry between Riley and leading lady James, absolutely zero original characterisation from the rest of the cast and a script that is utterly dead on arrival and there’s precious little left to recommend this film. What promised to be a fun pastiche is nothing but poor imitation injected with lifeless performances. Not even the threat of the undead can manage to keep Pride and Prejudice and Zombies animated.
Allie Gemmill | @alliegem