‘Pride and Prejudice’ – with zombies!

by Richard Roeper

Is there no end to the tsunami of material that has sprung from Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice?

Apparently not.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies”? Bring it on. Heck, I’d rather see “Pride and Prejudice and Wolverines,” or “Pride and Prejudice and Enormous, Man-Eating Rabbits.” Anything but a straightforward telling of the tale.

As was the case with the bloody, campy, guilty pleasure “Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter” (also based on a novel by Seth Grahame-Smith), the title pretty much says it all.

You’ve got your Regency Era England, and you’ve got your pride and your prejudice, with Mrs. Bennet trying to marry off her daughters, and the charming Mr. Bingley courting Jane, while Elizabeth is repulsed by the arrogant Mr. Darcy, mostly because of the deceits of Mr. Wickham and multiple misunderstandings, and blah de blah blah de blah …

The fun part? All of this takes place against the backdrop of a great zombie apocalypse, with the British army and multitudes of civilians – including the women – engaged in one horrific, blood-spattered, grotesque and fantastically disgusting (albeit PG-13) battle after another.

Lily James of “Downton Abbey” and the recent “Cinderella” adaptation has cornered the market on plucky lately, and she’s equal parts charming and fierce as Elizabeth. She and her sisters are well-mannered lasses, but first and foremost they are expertly trained warriors, schooled in the martial arts, hand-to-hand combat, swordplay, knife play, gunplay and good ol’-fashioned kick-a-zombie-in-his-skull play. If the Fox Force Five referenced in “Pulp Fiction” were transported to early 19th-century England, well, here they are.

Charles Dance adds a dignified presence as the doting father of the five sisters; Sally Phillips is a hoot as their horrible mother, who is obsessed with marrying them off to men of means.

When the dashing and wealthy Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth) approaches Jane (Bella Heathcote) at a grand gala and asks her for the next two dances, Mrs. Bennet congratulates him on selecting the most attractive of her daughters – and she says this in front of the other four. What a peach!

Sam Riley is a bit of a stiff as Mr. Darcy, but then again, Mr. Darcy is a bit of a stiff, eh? There’s an obvious spark between Mr. Darcy and Elizabeth, but she overhears him insulting her at that gala, and she stomps off, and that’s right around the time the story would feel overly familiar and predictable, were it not for the zombies that crash the party. Just when Elizabeth is in peril, Mr. Darcy appears out of nowhere and blows the head off one zombie in spectacular fashion – and that’s the first of many episodes in which Mr. Darcy saves Elizabeth, or (just as often) Elizabeth saves Darcy.

In true “Walking Dead” fashion, time after time when a favorite character is about to become zombie meat – BOOM! – someone appears out of nowhere with a well-timed shot to the head.

As for that PG-13 rating: The MPAA is nothing if not consistent in its hypocrisy vis-a-vis sex and violence. “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” is rated PG-13 “for zombie violence and action, and brief suggestive material.”

Heads are blown off and limbs are severed in this movie. A severed head is kicked like a soccer ball. We see newly minted zombies with half their faces rotting away. There are multiple stabbings, shootings, killings.

Ah, but the heaving bosoms remain corseted and the language is tame. If “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” had featured a topless glimpse of one of those five daughters, or an expletive-filled rant from Mr. Darcy, surely we’d be talking about an R-rated movie.

But a film with a church scene in which zombies consume the blood and brains of pigs as a communion ritual? No worries, PG-13!

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