Warning: Contains Spoilers
The title of this film leaves little to the imagination and basically sums up the plot in three words, but don’t let that put you off. Pride + Prejudice + Zombies is based on the British novel by Jane Austen and the parody of the same name, which takes its storyline from Austen’s classic and adds in a zombie outbreak, by Seth Grahame-Smith. Knowing next to nothing about the film, other than the obvious expectation that it was going to be a historical romance with elements of modern zombie horror, I wasn’t expecting much from Pride + Prejudice + Zombies, but found that this bizarre attempt to modernize a 19th century classic for a new generation was quite funny at times.
Mr Darcy (Sam Riley), the protagonist, has become a legend, a name synonymous with the perfect man. He is dashing, looks great on a horse, is mysterious and incredibly rich and Mr Darcy can now add ruthless zombie-hunter to his list of leisurely pursuits. We first meet him at a sophisticated social gathering, where with the help of some flies who are attracted to dead flesh, Darcy finds his first undead victim and is quick to put him down with some nifty knife skills and head stomping in front of the horrified upper class spectators.
Elsewhere in Hertfordshire, we meet the Bennet Family. Mr Bennet (Charles Dance), is the father of five young sisters, Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Mary (Millie Brady), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse) and Lydia (Ellie Bamber). His hysterical wife, Mrs Bennet (Sally Phillips) remains consumed by her sole mission of finding her beautiful daughters some rich, eligible bachelors to marry, despite the fact that a mysterious plague has spread across Britain causing the undead to feed upon the living. As news of the arrival of a handsome young gent, Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth), spreads across the county, she realises that this is a great opportunity to get rid of one of her daughters. Fortunately for her, there is a dance coming up, which Mr Bingley is expected to attend.
Liz Bennet is the female protagonist, who is much more interested in honing her zombie-fighting skills than going to dances to find husbands. Persuaded by her sisters and desperate mother, she goes along to the ball and things get off to a good start for them. The eldest Bennet daughter Jane, who we are often reminded is the most beautiful, catches the eye of an awe-struck Mr Bingley. It is love at first sight, and he makes a rather embarrassing, nervous introduction to Mrs Bennet and her daughters and asks if he may dance with Jane (the pretty one), while his sisters and even richer friend Mr Darcy look on. After their dance, Mr Bingley reunites with Darcy and tries to persuade him to dance with the second best Bennet girl, Liz. Darcy is unimpressed and labels her looks ‘tolerable’, which she overhears and is understandably disgusted by.
We catch up with Liz and Jane as they confide in one another about what happened at the dance. Unlike the 2005 film starring Matthew Macfayden and Keira Knightley, these scenes of trivial chatter do not happen in picturesque gardens, where the women pick pretty flowers and put them in their little baskets. Instead, Burr Steers’ adaptation shows these strong female characters talking about love while throwing one another against walls and beating each other up. The film is bold, loud and relentless. It is so fast paced that the characters are never really built up, and a lot of the events from the story are merely touched upon so it’s easy to feel like you’re in need of some more narrative to keep you interested, in place of the persistent fight scenes.
Just in time to stop you drifting off is the introduction of arguably the best, but definitely the funniest character Parson Collins (Matt Smith). He goes to the Bennet’s with the intention of marrying one of their daughters, and after meeting them picks Jane. Unfortunately for him, she is spoken for, so he is left with the unwilling companion Liz. His bumbling, clumsy charm does not win him Liz’s affection and she refuses his proposal, much to Mrs Bennet’s dismay. Instead, he soon finds a partner in her friend Charlotte (Aisling Loftus), who begs Liz to come to Parson Collins’ lodgings on the estate of notorious zombie-killer Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey).
Mr Darcy and Liz are reunited and he can’t help but confess how much he is in love with her. Liz is taken aback, and after yet another proposal of marriage to add to her list, she remains certain she is better off alone. After that, they meet again when Mr Wickham (Jack Huston), a former friend of both Darcy and briefly Liz, kidnaps young Lydia Bennet and takes her to London. Darcy goes to her rescue, only to find that the wicked Mr Wickham has set a trap. Being the intelligent hero that he is, the hoard of undead that surround them does not stop Darcy, and he manages to get Lydia on a horse and send her off to safety.
Liz finds her younger sister but decides to head towards the danger (obviously), where she finds Darcy and they kick some zombie butt before riding off together, out of London. In a supposed attempt to add some suspense to the film, the only bridge out of London is about to be blown up, on the order of Mr Bingley. The race to get over the bridge in time is on for Liz and Darcy, who are still being chased by a mass of the undead.
It is no surprise when they make it just as Bingley has given the order and the bridge is destroyed. Darcy disappears into a cloud of smoke before Liz runs over to find his motionless body on the ground. Did he make it? Of course he did.
The film closes with Parson Collins hosting a rather funny double wedding, with Jane and Mr Bingley and Liz and Mr Darcy both tying the knot. Matt Smith shines as ever, really bringing the film to life. In the final few seconds, as the wedding party is about to leave the church yard, Mr Wickham, that sneaky devil, charges across a field with an army of the undead behind him, looking ready to cause some havoc. What does this mean for the film, are they setting up a sequel? I hope not.
The film is not all that bad, with a few laughs and a strong cast. But the storyline is weak, adds nothing to the original classic and doesn’t really make any sense. It is a gimmick which fails to be either scary, comical or dramatic. While the first part of the film stays quite close to the classic romance story, albeit with an added zombie encounter now and then, the final part drifts into an original story which lacks any depth or valuable narrative. It seems the idea of creating an “epic” and “funny” black comedy for young people who love zombies films and rom coms was just easier said than done.
Pride + Prejudice + Zombies is in cinemas across the UK from 11th February.