It sounds as potentially appealing as caramel covered sauerkraut or a bikini made of sandpaper: Mashing together the rich and elegant writings of Jane Austen with the mindless antics of brain-eating zombies. The two are such a complete contrast that the two genres could never happily co-exist, right?
Yet, they do in “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Not only do the genres co-exist, they manage to pump up each other to the point the film is both a sweet and endearing romance while also being a thoroughly entertaining action movie.
The production, based on the popular book by Seth Grahame-Smith, opens during the Regency Era of London where the city is under siege from packs of zombies who roam the country. Many have fortified their homes, but there’s still an occasional brain eater that slips through the cracks.
Mr. Bennett (Charles Dance) has raised his five blithe and beautiful daughters to be as adept with the social graces as they are with a knife and sword. The strongest of the sisters is Elizabeth (Lily James), who is more determined to eliminate the walking dead than walking down the aisle.
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The script, based on the book through the guidance of director Burr Steers, manages to find that perfect balance between the romance and action. The story seamlessly bounces between the wooing of Elizabeth and her sister Jane (Bella Heathcote) and the zombie attacks.
Fans of the Austen novel will still find the sweeping story of love set against the English countryside. Most of it shown through the charming performance by Heathcote.
Just as quickly, the action returns as Elizabeth shows off her fighting skills while also dealing with her own emotional reactions to Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley). The casting of James was a brilliant move. The young actress – seen last year in the title role of “Cinderella” – brings a perfect blend of sweetness and toughness to the role.
James already looks like she stepped out of an Austen novel, as she first revealed while on “Downton Abbey.” But, she is equally believable when handling a sword. What makes both work is the seriousness she brings to the character.
It’s fun to see Elizabeth and Darby sparring with swords instead of witty words. The dialogue remains, but their sexually-charged bantering gets turned up a few notches.
Despite its silly name, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” isn’t staged as a spoof or farce. It’s played out as if Austen herself had written about the dead walking through the heather. The audience can see the absurdity, but no one plays their part with a wink of the eye.
Steers does take advantage of the comic relief that Mr. Collins brings to the story. Former “Doctor Who” star Matt Smith attacks the role of misguided suitor with a whimsical approach that allows for funny moments without turning the entire project into a comedy.
The director was also smart enough to stage the action scenes in such a way that the movie got a PG-13 rating. This will make it easier to convince someone who generally doesn’t like zombie movies to take a chance on the film. And, there’s enough action to lure in those who normally wouldn’t see a Jane Austen-inspired movie.
Don’t be turned off by the blending of the genres. Use good common sense and sensibility and go see “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.”
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies
- Rated PG-13 for action scenes
- Stars: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth
- Director: Burr Steers
- 108 minutes
- Opens: Friday, Feb. 5