Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Starring: Lily James, Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Charles Dance, Sally Phillips, Matt Smith, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth

Directed by: Burr Steers

Rating: 1 2 3

It is a truth universally acknowledged that anyone writing light-heartedly about Jane Austen has to start proceedings with her most famous line. Now we've got that out of the way, let's also acknowledge, universally, that the  21st century zombie must be in need of a worthy opponent. Cockneys, Navy Seals, Abraham Lincoln, strippers, plants... but the cast of Pride and Prejudice? Really?

Now I know there are plenty of people who love Jane Austen. Likewise, there are plenty of people who love zombies. But how many people really love both? Enough, it would appear, to make Seth Grahame-Smith's horror mashup Pride and Prejudice and Zombies a big enough hit to prompt a movie. But even standing proudly in the narrow intersection of that venn diagram, I wasn't sure the idea overly appealed.

Of one thing, however, I was sure: the film was not only going to have to dig up some kickass, innovative zombie gore, but it was going to have to get the Jane Austen stuff spot on. Does it succeed? Read on...

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

As a Jane Austen adaptation it's capable, boasting a great cast of reliable British period actors who can do this sort of thing standing on their heads (and in this case some of them almost have to). Charles Dance and Sally Phillips make a fine bickering Mr and Mrs Bennett (just because one's daughters can fight doesn't mean they don't need husbands, obvs); Matt Smith steals the show as pompous clergyman Mr Collins and Sam Riley smoulders as Mr Darcy, creaking about in a floor-length leather coat like the long lost gothic cousin of Roger Rees in a Hammer horror film. Likewise Lena Headey's swashbuckling, eye-patch sporting Lady Catherine de Burgh nicely translates the novel's steely snob into a supericilious swordswoman, while Jack Huston makes a dashing villain as the caddish Mr Wickham.

As a zombie film P&P&Z is... okay: far too low on blood and guts to my mind but at least it tries to do something different with the genre, introducing the idea that zombies only become monsters after eating their first brains, and until then remain sentient – if dead – human beings, and so far harder to spot than your common or garden shambling, rotting corpse.

The film works best when the characters are reciting spritely Austen-esque dialogue while engaging in spirited Eastern martial arts, and is at its worst every time anyone actually uses the word zombie or starts spouting off about being trained 'the Shaolin way'. (What's wrong with Western martial arts anyway? You know, the self defence the British actually studied in the 18th century?) The minute the dialogue strays away from Austen's rigorous track but nobody's fighting anyone or anything, the whole thing sags like dead tissue from a decomposing face and my interest levels plummeted.

Sure, there's fun to be had here, although the film takes its daft premise more seriously and plays more straight than I'd anticipated, and there are some nice set pieces (somewhat spoilered by the trailer unfortunately). Big on romance and low on gore, it makes for a great date movie. Although – and feel free to yawn at this point – it's a truth universally acknowledged that if you want a rom-zom-com that really zings, you still can't beat the original...

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