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Film review: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

The Jane Austen classic with zombie Bennett girls, but without any sparkle or horror

A still from ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’<br />
A still from ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’

There is enough intrigue in this title, and it translates to the narrative, but only partially. Mostly, this genre mash-up of Jane Austen’s much loved and oft-adapted classic with the horror genre is not clever enough, nor black enough in its humour, and not frightening at all.

England, circa 1800s, is a time when the zombie plague infestation has begun its spread. Mr Bennet (Charles Dance) has ensured that his five daughters are well prepared to face the walking dead by sending them all to China for training at a Shaolin temple. The sisters sit at home cleaning their guns, sharpening their knives and engaging in hand-to-hand combat while their peers refine their musical and sewing skills.

One of the most fun scenes is of the Bennet girls getting dressed for a ball, with knives being slipped into garters and stockings. Mrs Bennet is most concerned that her girls find worthy and wealthy grooms.

When the ball is besieged by a zombie attack, the sisters don’t bat an eyelid as they brandish their blades and bash out zombie brains. The eligible bachelors are impressed. While the prettiest sister, Jane (Bella Heathcote), wins the heart and hand of Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth), Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) is both fascinated and repelled by zombie slayer Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) in his creaky leather frock coat. The crackling chemistry and repartee between Elizabeth and Darcy is the bedrock of Pride And Prejudice, but the far-from-charming Riley does not match up to James, who brings form to all the shades of this iconic character, with a twist. She’s as quick with her wit as she is with her knife.

Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s book, director-screenwriter Burr Steers’ costume drama has forgettable moments of sparkle, and they come mainly in the sections that remain closer to Austen’s world than when the zombies pop up like an irritating afterthought. These aristocratic ladies in pastel frocks seem least perturbed by the undead, whose ever-expanding numbers are threatening to infest all of England. That no one is actually scared of these walking-talking zombies can partly be assigned to the director’s loose hold over the material.

Charles Dance and Lena Headey appear in supporting roles that do scant justice to their abilities. The only delectable character is Matt Smith as the camp Parson Collins who is seeking a wife but slyly coveting the frock-coated Darcy.

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies released in theatres on Friday.

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