Pride & Prejudice & Zombies - Review: Cinderella & Time Lord & Lanisters?

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Pride & Prejudice & Zombies - Review: Cinderella & Time Lord & Lanisters?

It’s been a longstanding concept for Doctor Who episodes to plug a supernatural or alien foe into a commonly known setting: Mummy on the Orient Express, Vampires in Venice, giant wasps with Agatha Christie etc. If done correctly, it can always make for a fun story by playing the setting and subject matter against each other. That’s exactly the concept Seth Grahame-Smith had in mind with his 2009 Jane Austen parody novel Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. After a lengthy and troubled development period, its film adaptation has finally reached our screens but sadly, the result isn’t the ball it promised to be.

While 19th Great Britain is under siege from the Wndead, the ladies of the period have keant to be accomplished in both the academic and deadly arts. Elizabeth “Lizzie” Bennet (Lilly James – Downtown Abbey, Cinderella) is in no hurry to trade her sword for a wedding ring and the judgemental Mr Darcy (Sam Riley – Control, Maleficent) is in no danger of changing that.... or is he?

Now the idea here is sound as a pound... or guinea or whatever the currency was back then. The early visuals alone make it clear that Jane Austen World and Zombieland have a definite opposites attract appeal. The trouble is that in the film, two aspects are not so much integrated as they're just placed next to each other while those involved hope for the best. This causes them to be largely viewed separately and as such, they are inferior. Pride and Prejudice has received a lot of good adaptations over the years from routine versions to previous parody versions like the Bollywoodstyled Bride and Prejudice. P&P&Z suffers because in many parts, it tries to be respectful adaption of its source material but notably dumbs its content down to the extent that many of the love story or dramatic elements are watered down to point of losing their taste. This isn’t helped by Sam Riley’s Mr. Darcy being as engaging as a lecture on telegraph poles and sounds like he’s got Christian Bale’s Batman hiding down his throat. Then at the same time, neither is this the greatest zombie film. Although they feature much more heavily in the final act for large sections of the film, the zombies themselves are all but absent to a degree, will leave the shotgun and chainsaw fan club bitterly disappointed. There are “smart zombie” plot elements that needlessly over-complicates narrative for the purpose of providing a main villain with some payoff but nothing spectacular. Rather than a match made in heaven, this is more speed-dating combination hurled together in a state of mild awkwardness.

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Yet the potential is there as every now and then, the two worlds combine like beer and pizza. One early book loyal exchange of Lizzie and Jane talking about men after the ball is taken from being a bedroom conversation to a hard-hitting physical combat sparring session within the cellars of their house, and that is absolutely brilliant! It keeps the spirit of the source material while taking its characters in a new direction and being highly entertaining in the process. Throughout the film, these rays of hope continue to pop up occasionally: Lizzie And Darcy adding fists and swords to their fallout or Jane’s matchmaking cold-switched to suspicions of zombie infection. It’s the moments when it successfully melds the two genres into one and becomes the film you hoped it would be, even if they're all too short-lived. In general, the zombie-killing combat sequences impress, especially when the ladies start causing Michone levels of zombie carnage in their period attire. Although some of their motions do become more repetitive as the film progresses. Save one poor dead fellow being hurled in an oven there is nothing in the way creative or improvised kills previous zombie success stories have taught us to expect. There is however, a surprising amount of good laughs courtesy of one tireless workhorse, that is Matt “The 11th Doctor” Smith’s Mr. Collins. While so many around him stay stern and sullied, Smith steals his every scene with his cheery pomposity and to raise a giggle with little more than an, “oh fuddle”. There are times when he’s all that stands between the film and an early grave.

The film does have many great cast editions that are doing their best to make things work. Lilly James make the Austen fans proud as Lizzie. Despite having less time and material to work with, she does convey the character's classic ideals and melds them well with the idea of her combat training. The great lion himself, Charles Dance makes an ideal Mr. Bennett and is also well-utilized for narration. Sadly, his Thrones companion Lena Headey fairs less well as the warrior Lady Catherine. She feels too much like a parody of herself. Matt Smith gives his best film performance since leaving the TARDIS and should definitely consider taking more comedic roles. Sam Riley is badly mis-cast and adds nothing to the film. Jack Huston (Boardwalk Empire) impresses as Mr. Wickham, bringing both charm and progressive menace to his darker role in this adaptation.

Its release date clearly markets itself as a Valentine’s compromise choice for couples but ultimately, this is a firm that doesn’t find an audience by being too mild a horror film and too shallow a period drama. There is some fun to be had from it if you can manage your expectations or be too much of a zombie purist. Despite some good looking trailers, this pride comes with a bit of a fall.

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