In 2009 author Seth Grahame-Smith had the rather clever idea along with publisher Quirk Books of penning with (ahem) ghost writer Jane Austen a mashup of her literary famed 1813 novel and reanimating it by adding the living dead to the plot. Naturally I was keen to give it a go and it was quick to find its way to my book shelf along with Adam Roberts I Am Scrooge: A Zombie Story For Christmas. Plenty of others flooded the market although unlike Fifty Shades Of Grey seem not to be littering charity shops, which means people are probably keeping hold of them until the novelty wears off. Looking around now there are no shortage of titles available such as Sense And Sensibilities And Sea Monsters, Android Karanina, Mansfield Park And Mummies & Little Women And Werewolves. Although the original authors are no doubt spinning in their graves it’s not like they could get out and complain, or could they?
Naturally enough it was only a matter of time before the first screen adaptation arrived and sure enough here it is. It was down to the director of ‘Igby Goes Down’ Burr Steers to do the honours and the question that is obviously going to be asked is how do the results of transposing the ideas of George Romero and Jane Austen to the big screen work and who are they likely to appeal to? Well firstly it would appear that dabbling with the zombie mythos allowed a bit of leeway as the reanimated (and naturally there are no shortage of them) appear to be quite civilised and non-threatening until they have had their first taste of human brains. Feeding them pigs brains could be one answer to solving the problem and that is the train of thought of the dashing Lt George Wickham (Jack Houston). It’s not all about the zombies though and having largely contained them, life in posh Hertfordshire goes on especially for the Bennett family and their numerous daughters who are of the age to be married off. There’s plenty of suitors up for the job too and no shortage of formalities and balls for them to pair up at.
Surprisingly enough I had never read Austen’s original prior to it being dug up in this fashion. You don’t really need to have either and if the thought of all her classic, though admittedly dull look at life and love in the 19th century is likely to have you dreading this, you needn’t worry too much. The Bennett daughters are well versed in dealing with these troubling times and are more than up for kicking flesh-eater ass and putting their lights out once and for all. They also don’t suffer living fools gladly either as is noted in some hilarious scenes as they squabble and ruck both together and with the pursuant gentlemen.
No expense seems to have been spared here as far as seeing this as an Austen adaptation; Merchant Ivory may well be proud themselves. English scenery and stately homes have been used to full effect and the cinematography is great. The acting is spot on too especially for the main progenitors namely Elizabeth Bennett (Lily James) Colonel Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley) and the more than comic relief of Parson Collins (Matt Smith). Smith steals every scene he is in as the pathetic and cringe-worthy Parson and seems to particularly be having the time of his life. You can’t help thinking that the plot could be something straight out of a Dr Who episode where time has gone very wrong and I admit I spent far too much time looking for a scene with a brief sighting of a blue police box in. Sadly unless I blinked and missed it, this would appear an opportunity lost.
So the hardcore zombie fanatics, how are they catered for? Well this is a film that is obviously designed to reach the furthest possible audience so don’t be looking for any Fulci excesses here. This is strictly PG13 (although actually BBFC 15) gore and the splatter addict should go into this just for the overall nods to the genre than anything else. There were a couple of things that had me doing just this such as the use of the carrion fly to sniff out the dead in a very similar fashion to Dario Argento’s Phenomena aka Creepers. Also the humour of the speaking zombies reminded a little of Michele Soavi’s Dellamorte Dellamore aka Cemetery Man.
Essentially then, we have here an adaptation that is going to have the true blue Austen fans in turmoil, the gore hounds crying over what could have been and a mainstream audience who have not dined on either feast wondering just what to make of it all. That is if you are a complete pessimist though determined to ruin it as there is plenty to like here too if you have a slightly off kilter sense of humour and all in all Pride And Prejudice And Zombies is great fun. I really look forward to its TV debut in a few years as it would make perfect early Sunday evening viewing and would cause a real amount of distress as the unsuspecting watch it and choke over their scones! Catch it digitally from the 20th June or on DVD / Blu on the 27th.