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JAY MAIDMENT

Lily James (center) and Bella Heathcote (left) in Screen Gems’ PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

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★★★✩✩

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

Directed by Burr Steers

Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Matt Smith, Jack Huston, Bella Heathcote

PG-13

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I’ll admit it: going in, I was skeptical and ready to snub Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. The very concept of Jane Austen’s masterpiece set during a zombie apocalypse made me want to take up arms against this monstrosity, but as it turned out, the novel, much like its heroine Elizabeth Bennett, didn’t really need defending.

For those of you who read or watched Pride and Prejudice (the original) against your will and found the going a bit slow, this was made for you. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies hijacks the novel’s romantic plot, best lines, and characters (some of whom have to be flattened quite a bit to be squeezed into the movie) and adapts them in a way guaranteed to entertain a hyperactive twelve-year-old.

We are introduced to an England besieged by droves of undead. The Bennett sisters, who have been raised by their father (Charles Dance) as warriors “meant for battle, not cooking,” are fighting for the survival of the human race, leaving the pianoforte by the wayside. No longer are Elizabeth (Lily James) and her sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) brushing each other’s hair as they discuss the merits of marriage for love; they are practicing their punches, dressed in black Oriental robes. Their mother wants to marry them off and is hopeful when the well-off Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley), a broodingly handsome zombie hunter, and Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth) move into the neighborhood.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies takes a cleverly written and carefully structured social commentary of Regency era England and turns it into an action movie replete with heaving bosoms, zombie orphans, and exploding bridges. There are scenes in which the novel’s verbal sparring matches, like Darcy’s initial proposal and Lizzie’s exchange with Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey), are transmuted into kicks and punches. Some may find this to be a tawdry ruse, but in a way, it highlights the force lurking in Jane Austen’s original dialogues. In 19th century England, words were the only weapons one could wield in polite society, and the movie reminds one of the power behind words. The only problem is that this theme and many other details are drowned out by the sheer amount of action that is packed into the film.

The movie is filled to the brim with talented actors and it pays appropriate homage to its predecessors. Ladies may recall a certain scene involving a pond in the BBC adaptation (the theater broke out into cheers and whoops at this tribute). Matt Smith, whom many know from Doctor Who, plays a spectacularly slavish and awkward Mr. Collins, and many will recognize Mr. Bennett and Lady de Bourgh from Game of Thrones. The undead that were stalking across the countryside managed to be eerie, repulsive, and pitiful, all at once. The gore was not distasteful, though questionably within the confines of PG-13. What aided in the success of this production was the sincerity of the actors. The actors played it straight: no winking at the camera, no sarcastic undertones — and it worked. The humor stemmed from the contrast between their earnestness and their backdrop.

All in all, I was pleasantly surprised. The film has an overt theme of female empowerment that I approve of — Jane Austen on steroids. These feisty female warriors make a feminist proud. They are not merely surviving, but are charging off into battle to save their beaux from rampaging zombie hordes. This movie is not your typical mash up, and though not a cinematic chef d’oeuvre, it is more thoughtful than the title suggests. If you’re skeptical, give it a shot. Even if you hate it, you can at least admire Sam Riley’s dark eyes and husky voice, and some pretty badass fight scenes.