Movie Review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I kind of loved this stupid movie, though I think it’s more for what it could have been than for any of the things it actually was. And unfortunately, one thing Pride and Prejudice and Zombies isn’t is good. It’s not terrible, however, and it is fun, more or less. Mostly, though, P&P&Z is an overstuffed mess of mismatched tropes, frantic pacing, and bizarre tonal shifts as it tries to be far too many things at once.

As a zombie flick, well, this one is sadly hindered by a PG-13 rating. However, P&P&Z still manages to show a surprising amount of halfway decently produced gore. The prologue scene shows us some zombies right away, and I appreciate not having to wait for any big reveal on that score. There are even some interesting ideas here regarding the zombies, and the existence of sentient zombies who don’t eat humans is a potentially compelling concept that is largely squandered by having characters essentially laugh the idea off. The moral dilemma that the sentient zombies should create is pretty much ignored, although there is some kind of hand-waving excuse-making done by vaguely tying the sentient zombies to the four horsemen of the apocalypse, who exist in the narrative for just this singular purpose.

The four horseman are only one of many potentially fascinating mythological ideas that are wasted in this movie. The opening credits detail a lengthy, detailed, and highly entertaining alternate history of an England that colonized the New World and brought back a plague that eventually caused King George to go mad and build a hundred foot wall around the whole city of London. The idea of the zombie disease as a sort of cosmic punishment for the sins of imperialism is reasonably original, and tying that to religion and framing it as the end times with the four horsemen and everything would be plenty good enough to carry a Regency-era zombie film on its own. The zombie cult with their pig brain communion and the conflict between zombie fighters and zombie sympathizers adds an element of moral complexity to the story that deserved to be more fully explored. Unfortunately, there’s just no time here, with such an enormous amount of story to get through.

The reason there’s so much story to get through, of course, is because this zombie movie is also trying to be an adaptation of Pride and Prejudice. The thing is, there’s a reason why the gold standard adaptation of this material is a six-hour mini-series. There’s an enormous amount of story happening in Jane Austen’s novel, and even the 2005 film—which, while a solid adaptation, was widely criticized for omitting parts of the source material—clocks in at twenty-two minutes longer than P&P&Z. With all the zombie material thrown in, P&P&Z moves at a simply blazing pace, and it becomes increasingly convoluted and disjointed as it goes along.

Eventually, it just feels as if the P&P elements are simply strewn throughout the film randomly. Things keep happening that are kind of like the book, but they never seem to mean anything, and even major plot points and emotional beats feel slightly nonsensical. For example, when Lady Catherine (Lena Headey, just making Cersei Lannister faces) comes to confront Elizabeth about her relationship with Darcy, it’s just a thing that occurs that has no real effect even on Elizabeth. Later on, Darcy says something like the “it taught me to hope” line that usually refers to his having learned from Lady Catherine of Elizabeth’s refusal to promise not to marry him, but when he says it here, he’s referring to something completely different.

Similarly, early in the movie, Elizabeth’s Aunt Phillips mentions that they have to plan their trip to the north or whatever, but then the trip—which in the book is a significant event—never happens. Also, Aunt Phillips isn’t even the right aunt—Elizabeth travels to Derbyshire with the Gardiners in the novel. The whole movie just betrays a disrespect for the source material and its fans that is, frankly, infuriating. P&P&Z feels as if it was conceived and written by someone who read the Cliff’s Notes for Pride and Prejudice once, begrudgingly, in ninth grade, and didn’t understand (or care to even try to understand) any of the things that made it a great novel and have turned it into a perennially popular and beloved pop cultural artifact.

I didn’t expect P&P&Z to be a good movie, so I can’t claim to be disappointed upon learning that it isn’t, but I did expect it to deliver a bit more in the fun department than it did. Certainly there’s the enjoyment of watching something with good production values, a great cast, and pretty costumes, but the whole thing was just too gloomy and over-serious to be truly fun. Most of the humor was unintentional, and there was overall too much grit and grime and not enough gore to generate the kind of visceral pleasure a good zombie-killing flick can. P&P&Z contains a lot of the pieces to a marginally acceptable adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, an okay action flick, and dark and morally complex zombie film, but not enough to do any of those things justice.

Miscellaneous thoughts:

  • Darcy’s grave flies were neat, but in a movie that is so overfull of things happening, there’s not really time to appreciate that kind of detail. While they appear more than once, the flies end up being just one of many superfluous flourishes that uses up screen time that could have been better spent on something else.
  • P&P&Z’s action scenes are nicely done, if a bit rushed. I was pleasantly surprised by how well Lily James did as an action heroine, having previously seen her playing waifish princess-y types on Downton Abbey and in Cinderella.
  • On one level, I like the repeated allusions made to a previous Mr. Darcy by having Sam Riley wearing billowy white shirts. Tragically, though, he never does go full Firth for us.
  • They did do a nice job of showing the sisterly relationship between Elizabeth and Jane, and I kind of loved when they got to rescue their men as a sort of bonus on their way to a totally different objective. Too bad about Charlotte, though. Lydia suffers similarly from lack of characterization, and it’s even worse in her case because there’s not much reason to be invested in Jane and Elizabeth’s rescue mission at the end since we haven’t actually gotten to know Lydia well enough to care.
  • I would love to see Matt Smith play Mr. Collins again in a more serious adaptation. I’ve always imagined Collins as a small, slightly weaselly fellow, but Matt Smith’s tall scarecrow of a Collins was a bit of a revelation. It’s only too bad that he was reduced to comic relief in a movie that otherwise took itself far too seriously.
  • I know this all reads like a laundry list of complaints, but I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t going to watch this like twenty-five times when it hits Netflix.

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