Sunday, 28 February 2016

I've Just Seen: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016)

Director: Burr Steers

I am, in many ways, over-qualified to review this film. Not only am I a huge Jane Austen fan (and P&P is my favourite novel), I am a member of the Jane Austen Society of Australia; my fourth year Honours thesis was about fan-fiction, and one section was about the fan-fiction surrounding Pride and Prejudice, and I wrote about Seth Grahame-Smith's novel. The only lack in my knowledge base is regarding zombie films. As a result of knowing Austen back-to-front, I may have overthought my response to this film. What follows is rather more detailed than this film deserves. But hey, you don't have to read if you don't wish to.

The positive part of the films is the cast. All the actors were well-choosen for their parts, so much so that I rather wished I was watching a 'traditional' adaptation. Matt Smith as Mr 'Parson' Collins was the highlight for me, along with Sally Phillips as Mrs Bennet and Sam Riley as Darcy. Smith stole every scene he was in, and drew the most laughs from me. Riley was a great choice for Darcy, providing gravitas with touches of comedy through sly looks. He also has a fantastic raspy voice.

Lily James was a good choice for Elizabeth, but was let down by Steers who both wrote and directed the film. I shall demonstrate why: in Austen's novel, Lizzy's response to Darcy apprasial of her person as 'tolerable' is to laugh at his pride and high opinion of himself. She is miffed, but chooses to see him as ridiculous. In Grahame-Smith's version, she plans to follow him out of the room and stab him with her knife - a more vicious response certainly, but similarly proactive. James' Lizzy runs outside and cries - not good (and really, who would think the very beautiful Lily James merely 'tolerable' - it is the Keira Knightley problem all over again!). Indeed, Steers' script removed much of Elizabeth Bennet's famous wit, making her more emotional and grumpy. Steers doesn't seem comfortable writing a witty women (something shared by many male screenwriters unfortuntately).

The story deviates substantially in the third act, but that didn't annoy me. It seemed to reference several other fan-fiction tales (like the vampire inflected ones) with its portrayal of Wickham as a very bad man. The quotes from other stories are nice in-jokes for us Austen-philes. For a story that involves violent attacks, their is little blood to be seen, the white gloves of the Bennet girls remaining magically clean throughout.

Ultimately, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has fun moments, especially Darcy's proposal scene, but should have been a lot funnier. The cast are good, but deserved a better script. In short, I left thinking how I would have done things slightly differently if I were writer/ director, which means the movie didn't quite work.

If you like Austen and don't mind a bit of violence in your films, you will find things to enjoy in the film. If not, I honestly don't know what there is in it for you. 

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