“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” So kicks off the latest adaptation of Jane Austen’s timeless novel Pride and Prejudice. The line does an excellent job summarizing exactly what viewers are in for: a tongue-in-cheek, humorous homage to a revered classic.
Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is exactly that – Pride and Prejudice set in a zombie apocalypse, with the Bennet sisters favoring their skills in beheading zombies more than those in the kitchen. Impressively, even with the addition of zombies, much of Austen’s original story stays intact, at least through the first half. A “history primer” at the beginning helps to set the story by telling England’s history from 1700-1800, explaining that a booming trade business also brought a destructive plague that created the undead.
While I do think those who’ve never see P&P before will get a kick out of this film, it’s clearly meant for those who are already familiar with the story and its many adaptations, particularly the 1995 BBC mini-series that solidified Colin Firth as Mr. Darcy to generations of women. (Keep an eye out for a quick homage to Darcy’s famous dip in the pond scene.) Where the 1995 mini-series is thorough and proper and the 2005 Keira Knightley helmed take is lush and romantic, P&P&Z takes a more modern approach and turns Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) and Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley) into a sword-wielding power couple.
Most importantly, it fully realizes that its premise is ludicrous and plays it up. It gleefully points out how silly it is that women are hiding knives in their stockings while still worrying about marriage. Mr. Darcy (now Colonel Darcy and one of the most skilled warriors in England) wears an absolutely ridiculous leather get-up that noticeably squeaks when he walks. Mr. Collins (Matt Smith), always the comedic relief, is played more broadly for humor here than in other adaptations, a task Smith seems to revel in. His movements are flouncy and his sighs and inflections are over the top but it serves as a perfect foil to the violence around him.
Although it feels like we get a new P&P adaptation every few years now, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is a worthy addition. I didn’t know I wanted to see Lizzy and Darcy physically fight as equals when she refuses his first proposal, but man was it fun to watch. Making the women trained fighters gives them independence and an agency that can never be fully realized in the traditional sense. Thus, not only do we get to watch a classic story with familiar characters – now with zombies and independence! – but we still get to sigh and swoon at the romance and period costumes. Sounds like the best of both worlds to me.