Okay, let’s get a few important things out of the way: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (2016) is not trying to be a faithful recreation of a Jane Austen novel, nor of the English Regency era. It is obviously supposed to be a fun mash-up of two different genres — classic Austen fiction and horror movies. That means that the film shouldn’t be taken the least bit seriously from the historical angle, OBVIOUSLY. I say all of this because at least one (if not more) people are going to turn up here and say, “Tsssk, don’t you know this is JUST FUN?” So to be clear: WE ARE AWARE.
With that giant caveat above, I should also add that I might not be the best person to review this, because I’m not a big horror fan! Okay, I do like a good creepy/suspenseful movie, but I don’t really like gore, and I plug my ears when the carnage gets loud. I am a wimp, I fully admit it!
Now, onwards to a review!
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (I am already sick of typing that long title) is an adaptation of a recent novel that mashed-up Jane Austen’s novel Pride and Prejudice with zombie/horror (spawning what seems likely to be increasingly less successful copies like Sense and Sensibility and Seamonsters or Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter). It was written by Seth Grahame-
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Plot
In this alternate universe, sometime over the course of the 18th century, as British traders made connections with other lands further afield, zombieism (zombism?) was brought back to Britain. There’s a super cute opening scene showing you this background through toy theater-type images with narration … although I’d like to point out that the whole “dark diseases come from dark and scary foreign lands” thing smacks of racism to me. Also, although I enjoyed the visuals, I got totally confused about the resulting effects on British geography, as various walls and moats were built and there was one bridge left and I’m not entirely sure where the bridge went despite literal maps attempting to help me keep track.
I think if you were taking this seriously, which I didn’t — cocktails and girlfriends help! — you could argue that something as major as a zombie outbreak in England multiple generations before the 1800s-10s would have more fundamentally changed society than it did. I’m sure that would be the argument for any costume weirdnesses … so why is everyone still cotillion-ing and drinking tea and playing whist? Okay, so yes, everyone now goes off to Japan or (unfashionably, but supposedly superiorly) China (which the Bennet sisters do) to be trained as warriors (what happens if you’re just a klutz?). But despite that, apparently you come back and play whist (okay, they also spend a lot of time cleaning their weapons. But still!). I have no idea!
I don’t want to give too much away about the plot, in case you’re like me and haven’t read the (non-Austen) books. So let’s keep it to a few points: you’ve got all five Bennet sisters, who meet Darcy and Bingley and Wickham and Collins and Lady Catherine de Bourgh all as in the original novel. Obviously the story changes to accommodate a zombie outbreak, and there’s some cute things done here — for example, instead of Darcy and Elizabeth sparring over their dance at the Netherfield Ball, they do it while fighting zombies.
Some Austen-y things get condensed — Charlotte Lucas gets about one line and other characters are condensed (Mrs. Philips is the only relative, briefly glimpsed). I think the main things that I missed are Caroline Bingley, who only gets one real scene to be bitchy (I also didn’t love her look, but she’s such a minor character that I can’t even find any images!); and there isn’t much distinguishing amongst all the Bennet sisters (Lydia is there to giggle and Jane to be pretty, but Kitty and Mary are total background other than being excellent fighters, which — Mary??!!).
Finally, the film picked up a few elements that are from other adaptations, like Darcy jumping into the lake (1995 reference) and Elizabeth yelling that Jane is “just shy!” at Darcy (2005 reference), both of which were fine — again, this is trying to be pop-culture-savvy, not reverential.
Finally, cast-wise I enjoyed all of the performances. Lily James did a good Elizabeth Bennet — smart, pretty, judgemental; Sam Riley did a good glowering Mr. Darcy, although Douglas Booth as Bingley was soooooo pretty; Sally Phillips wasn’t my favorite Mrs. Bennet, but she did an admirable job; Charles Dance could have been a better Mr. Bennet if he’d been given more screen time, but since he wasn’t, I just kept waiting for him to take over the adjoining kingdom; Jack Huston was a dreamy yet evil Wickham; Matt Smith was HIGH-larious as Mr. Collins; and I quite liked Lena Headey’s younger, badass Lady Catherine.
Finally, in case you’re a horror-aphobe … I saw some people on social media say that they felt like they’d basically seen a romantic comedy. As someone who watches a lot of costume movies (OBVIOUSLY), I will say that about 50% of this is truly a zombie movie. So don’t go into it expecting that to just be the occasional joke! They’re there, they get their heads shot off, there are brains, etc.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies: The Costumes
Designed by Julian Day (In the Heart of the Sea, Salmon Fishing in the Yemen) — weirdly, they were pretty darn good, minus a few clunkers and a few “huh?” things in terms of costume working with characterization.
For some reason, I want to start with Mr. Darcy. Despite being a colonel, he spent the movie in a long back Matrix-esque leather coat … which the foley artists had fun making squeak. I don’t know if it was supposed to be funny, but we couldn’t stop laughing. He looked great, although if he’s a colonel, shouldn’t he be in uniform (like all the other army guys)?
Other than that, the men were all Regency uniforms and high collars and nothing out of the ordinary!
On to the ladies … in general, everyone looked right out of your standard Jane Austen adaptation, perhaps with a few more short sleeves for daytime than is expected (a modernization that you generally see, but I felt like I saw more of it in this) and low necklines (another common modernization).
But there were bonnets and pelisses and spencers, and the prints were all perfect for the era, and I didn’t see much to complain about other than the few clunkers that I’ll discuss next.
Oh, and they FOUND THEIR HAIRPINS (hallelujah)! And I admit that I LURVED Lady Catherine’s amazing hairstyle, with a braid of hair attached over the top of a decorative comb.
Luckily, the no-chemises-under-corsets and ruffled tap panties (SHUDDER) flew by in 0.5 seconds.
The weirdest costume to me was Elizabeth’s first assembly (dance) costume. It had unnecessary straps, was weirdly off-the-shoulder, had crappy lace, and was seriously made of 100% polyester baroque satin. It was WEIRD, because it was the only thing like it. Yes, you want your audience to know who the heroine is, but I don’t know if putting her into a super crappy, super modern prom dress is the answer.
There were some logical, given the zombie-infested world they live in, tweaks to the costumes that were just fine by me. Skirts were slit up to the thigh to allow for fighting, and the women wore lots of leather holsters for various weapons.
And when it came time for the final battle, both Elizabeth and Lady Catherine put on PANTS … which seemed fine to me, given the fact that this was also trying to be a zombie/action movie. Whatever! I’m far more offended by poly baroque satin prom dresses.
Have you seen Pride and Prejudice and Zombies yet? What’s your take on the costumes?