Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is an adaptation of Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel/Jane Austen spoof from 2009. It was the first of a long string of horror-classic lit mash-ups that still seem to plague bookshop shelves.
Grahame-Smith’s attempt was the most successful of these in both sales and probably quality. I was a die-hard fan of the author’s work back when he was publishing things like How to Survive a Horror Movie, and before he wrote that screenplay for Dark Shadows. The book worked fairly well by selling you exactly what it promised on the cover: a timeless romance story with the absurdity of a zombie infestation where everyone becomes obsessed with Eastern battle techniques.
Now, several years after its release, we get what this book was destined for: the movie. And after great anticipation? What is delivered? Well, a great pile of ‘meh’.
P&P&Z comes from Burr Steers, the man who delivered the screenplays of films like How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days. He doesn’t exactly have the most lovable filmography, but clearly his background in romantic comedies paid off because the romance works really well, but unfortunately there is barely a moment to enjoy it.
Pride and Prejudice has so many classic adaptations – most successfully the BBC 1995 mini-series starring Colin Firth and most recently the 2005 adaption starring Keira Knightly and Matthew Macfayden. While P&P&Z gives many winks and nods to those two adaptions, it fails to include what both of those had: pacing.
In a six-part mini-series, you have all the time in the world to develop a story. A movie that clocks in at under two hours has to take many liberties with just a complex novel. It sometimes can be successful, but other times (much like this movie), it just doesn’t quite work. When the editing is so sloppy and jumpy, it’s distracting, and almost derails the whole movie.
There is so much to love in this movie, but the editing is so appalling that it becomes distracting. Everything is so quick pace that you hardly remember that this is supposed to be a romance with zombies. But since the romance is so sped up, the scenes with the zombies hardly feel any more exciting because, well, it’s never given the chance to be dramatic.
The best part of P&P&Z is definitely the performances by the main cast. One surprisingly memorable character is Matt Smith as Mr Collins. He was outrageous and over-the-top with his silly antics, which is how all Mr Collins performances should be. But that is also a large part of what makes P&P&Z so frustrating. So many of the actors are trying their best here, but there is so little time to dwell on it that it almost doesn’t matter.
Lena Heady plays a Lady Catherine de Bourgh with an eye patch, a katana and one hell of a Cersei Lannister smirk. That alone is fantastic, but Heady’s delivery is so sharp that it’s endlessly fun to watch. It’s a shame that she’s barely on screen for any amount of time.
P&P&Z had a difficult job right off the bat: it had to appeal to both romantic fans and zombie fans. Not always two groups that mix – especially when Jane Austen is involved. But it could have worked and it nearly did work. Pride & Prejudice & Zombies just has so much going for it, but the film just never managed to really deliver enough of either Grahame-Smith’s madness or the classic story of Austen.
It’s as though the idea is just crying out for someone to do it justice, and with something as zany as zombies in Regency England, it really deserves it. For anyone not terribly familiar with the original story, it might even be difficult to follow along with given how quickly everything moves along. An additional 20 minutes would have done the movie absolutely no harm. Also, a bit of gore would have helped things along too. Talk about a bloodless zombie movie.
Pride & Prejudice & Zombies is certainly not a fantastic movie. But that is not to say that it can’t be genuinely enjoyable as well. Lily James as Lizzie and the incredible Sam Riley as Mr Darcy are a lovely couple together. Surely there are critics out there who will refuse to admit that there is anything to like about this film, but those people probably also think watching Lars von Trier films is “fun” but have never watched all of Bill Rebane’s movies back to back.