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Pride & Prejudice and Zombies – Review

 
 
Overview
 

Release Date: 5 February 2016 [USA]
 
Director: Burr Steers
 
Writer: Burr Steers [Screenplay] - Jane Austen - Seth Grahame-Smith [Novel]
 
Cast: Lily James – Sam Riley – Jack Huston - Bella Heathcote – Douglas Booth – Charles Dance – Sally Phillips – Matt Smith – Lena Headey
 
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2.5/5


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Posted February 10, 2016 by

 
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Pride & Prejudice and Zombies Review:

We have had high-concept films, but Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is a ‘why concept’ movie. It’s a gimmicky title based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) rather than a thought-out retelling of the Jane Austen classic. The attempt to keep the story intact as the characters, Elizabeth Bennett and her sisters, ‘Colonel’ Darcy et al contend with a zombie outbreak, flattens the comedy. There is a potential joke that the livid dead, facially disfigured and unable to marry well, represent uncouth city folk, zombified by city-life and naturally attacking the countryside. However, the American filmmaker Burr Steers, best known for his films with Zac Efron (17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud) doesn’t follow a consistent through line. For him, the zombies represent an inconvenience rather than are metaphors for something.

Jane Austen’s novel has space for a substitution, se when the English are at war with Napoleon. The zombies therefore could – at a stretch – be a metaphor for post-revolutionary France (‘let them eat brains’) except that this idea isn’t explored. Then there are the contemporary resonances. The uncouth ‘zombie’ horde with faces drawn from hunger could be the dreaded migrants and (if you believe UKIP) must be stopped.

The reason Steers – who gives us a bum steer on this one (sorry, couldn’t resist) – can’t entertain or develop any of these ideas is because we are supposed to adore Elizabeth, Darcy, Bingham and co. The joke is that the landed gentry are trained in martial arts, can use knives and rifles. They should be the butt of the satire rather than the heroes. I watched it in a crowded cinema not minding that a patron two seats down was checking her phone. Really, be my guest!

Yet there is something funny about young people in posh frocks (sorry, regency gowns) being confronted with the unforgiving dead and then the zombies have their head blown orff! I mean, pass me the bolly! My tolerance was two versions of this gag – the film proved the anti-comedy rule of three.

Most of the female cast, Lily James as Elizabeth and Bella Heathcote as her sister, Jane, play it straight. The ashen-faced Sam Riley, who once played the lead singer of Joy Division but has been relegated to joyless derision here, is an unlikely but oddly effective Darcy, who in one of the film’s better gags – I rated the film 2.5 half stars not out of charity, gentle reader – jumps into a pond to, as it were, go full Colin (Firth). Douglas Booth is a bland Bingham, but Jack Huston proves a charismatic Wykeham, whose character does at least have a coherent back story. Lena Headey, as Darcy’s eye-patch wearing aunt, trades on her association with Game of Thrones and is naturally involved in combat.

Were it not for Matt Smith as Mr Collins, I might have been tempted to check my neighbour’s phone as well. Smith is simply brilliant as the egotistical, vain, condescending Collins. He doesn’t so much deliver his lines as launch them into the air like spiralling faulty rockets that crash and explode. He is hilarious and I missed him every time he disappeared, which given that there had to be a bit of zombie action every ten minutes was sadly too often.

Sally Phillips brings her customary horsey wrong-headedness to the role of Mrs Bennett, eager to see her daughters married off for money, whilst as Mr Bennett Charles Dance delivers Austen’s dialogue verbatim: ‘Mrs Bennett will not talk to you if you don’t marry Mr Collins, and I won’t talk to you if you do.’

There might be some truths universally acknowledged, but one self-evident is that the cos-zom-com doesn’t work. Eagle-eyed readers will note that I wasn’t keen on Scout’s Guide to the Zombie Apocalypse, but I like some living dead comedies (Zombieland) – honest!

 

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Larry Oliver
@LarryOliverFilm
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