Film: “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”; Director: Burr Steers; Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Lena Headey, Douglas Booth, Matt Smith, Jack Huston, Charles Dance, Bella Heathcote; Rating: **
Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s novel of the same name, this horror film retells Jane Austen’s classic tale of manners. It reveals the tangled relationships between lovers from different social classes in 19th century England, albeit with a twist that involves zombies.
At the very onset, we are informed by a voice-over that Britain has turned into a horror zone with zombies living in close proximity to humans. To protect themselves the humans are holed up within the walled city of London and have relegated the zombies to the “In-Between,” an area outside of the walled-in city but inside a royal moat.
In the Bennet household, the sisters Elizabeth (Lily James), Jane (Bella Heathcote), Kitty (Suki Waterhouse), Lydia (Ellie Bamber), and Mary (Millie Brady) are all trained in the art of weaponry and martial arts. Their mother, Mrs. Bennet (Sally Phillips) is worried about their future as she wants them to be married off to wealthy suitors.
The suitors include Colonel Darcy (Sam Riley), an investigator who slays newly infected zombies; his close friend Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth), who is the Bennet’s new neighbour; Mr. Collins (Matt Smith), the girl’s cousin who is a pastor; and Mr. Wickham (Jack Huston), a charming soldier.
How the girls, with their pride, prejudices and daggers in their garters, navigate through the treacherous paths of marriage proposals, forms the crux of the film.
Director Burr Steers’ script seems unsure of the plot. Though he ensures the action sequences are as sharp as the wits quotient, he fails to leave an impact. In fact, the plot shuffles between action, horror and romance in a much unfocused manner, not doing justice to any one genre in particular.
On the performance front, Lily James as the spunky and spirited Elizabeth steals the show. She captures the essence of the agile, alert Elizabeth’s personality along with her fighting skills with great ease. She is the only character you feel for.
Bella Heathcote as Jane is pleasant in a short role and the rest of the sisters in one dimensional roles are all wasted.
Sam Riley brings a touch of stubbornness to the role of Mr. Darcy and is aptly paired opposite Lily. Matt Smith as Parson Collins is over dramatic and steals every scene he is in. Jack Huston as Mr. Wickham conveys the bitterness he has for Mr. Darcy subtly.
Sally Phillips as Mrs Bennet is a caricature of the original character designed by Jane Austen. She lacks the punch of the pushy go-getter mother and Charles Dance as Mr. Bennet is adorable as the loving father.
Remi Adefarasin’s cinematography with steady camera work and well-angled shots are pleasing visually. With intense lighting and a subtle earthy palette he captures the atmosphere and era as well as the action brilliantly.
The visuals along with the well calibrated background score layered by editor Padraic Mckinley, is what keeps you hooked.
But overall you keep wondering why anyone would want to retell a classic and ruin the charm of the original tale.