Starring Lily James, Sam Riley, Matt Smith and Lena Headey
Four out of five stars
Put aside your prejudices, because this strange mix of genres not only works, it rocks.
Going into this film, I have to imagine I was like most of you -- I read "Pride and Prejudice" in high school but don’t really remember it, and I haven’t read "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies," the 2009 book on which the movie is based. And, also probably like many of you, my first reaction was to laugh and completely dismiss this idea as dumb.
“A movie where they add zombies to 'Pride and Prejudice'?” I thought. “Seriously? This was a joke someone made on Twitter that somehow spiraled out of control, right?” And then I saw a little bit of footage at Comic-Con last year, and I must say I was impressed. Strong female leads who can kick butt in corsets? OK, I’m intrigued.
Now that I’ve seen the movie, I can tell you: I’m all in.
"Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" is exactly what the title states: It takes Jane Austen’s beloved 19th-century comedy of manners and adds zombies. It follows the five unmarried Bennet sisters and their various courtships with suitors Mr. Bingley, Mr. Darcy and others. Only in this version, zombies are at war with humans and a constant danger. This being the case, all the sisters are combat-trained martial arts experts. Sound crazy? Trust me, just go with it.
Lily James ("Downton Abbey," "Cinderella") stars as second sister Elizabeth Bennet, and she’s not too keen on fitting into the common role women were meant to play in 19th-century England. She has little interest in boys or balls (the dancing kind), and is perhaps the best warrior of the women. She kicks butt, a lot, and is constantly saving both her sisters and the guys -- exactly the kind of heroine that seems to be sorely lacking on the big screen right now, especially in the comic-book movies.
Sam Riley ("Maleficent," "On the Road") plays Mr. Darcy, who spars and sparks with Elizabeth for most of the movie. He’s grumbly and dark and full of both pride and prejudice, a zombie-killing colonel who has no time for games. My only problem here is that he’s perhaps a little too dark -- James’ Elizabeth is also very serious, but she has a nice lightness about her, with a wry smile every now and then. Riley’s Darcy just seems like a terrible person to spend time with.
But that’s okay, because "Doctor Who's" Matt Smith is there to provide a lot of comedy. He plays Parson Collins, cousin to the Bennet sisters and a potential suitor. He steals every scene he’s in, and welcomingly cuts the tension.
Lena Headey ("Game of Thrones") is also fun as the eyepatch-wearing famed zombie slaughterer Lady Catherine de Bourgh. She brings a little bit of Cersei Lannister’s bite to the role of the richest lady in all the land, and it would have been nice to see a little more of her going toe-to-toe with Lily James.
I honestly try as hard as possible to go into every movie with as little baggage as possible, but given the silly concept, that was tough to do here. "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" not only turned me around, it made me a fan. It’s funny, smart, has some great fight scenes, and it’s just so refreshing to see women in a 19th-century period piece who aren’t damsels in distress or scheming vixens.
I want to see more. If there’s a sequel, I’ll be there.