The overarching theme in Jane Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” — that women are competent, thinking beings — translates well in Seth Grahame-Smith’s modern adaptation of the classic, “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” While the book came out in 2009, this gory take on a literary mainstay hit the big screens this past Friday.
The original Jane Austen novel centers around the Bennet family, and the tensions that arise when their strong-willed daughter Elizabeth, meets the brooding Mr. Darcy. So how exactly do zombies get added in? In this alternate universe, a plague has spread across England, bringing the dead back to life.
In Austen’s original text, in order for a young woman to be viewed as accomplished, she must have “a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, and the modern languages.” In addition to these qualities, the updated Grahame-Smith version states she must also “be well-trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and modern tactics and weaponry of Europe.” In this adaptation, the Bennet sisters are more than just pretty faces; they are warriors, and Mr. Darcy — now Colonel Darcy — fights zombies whilst donning a leather tail coat.
At the time Austen wrote this book, it was improper for a woman to be outspoken and independent. To have a woman like Elizabeth Bennet give her opinion — as antagonist Lady Catherine de Bourge put it, “very decidedly for so young a person,” — was extremely revolutionary at the time.
Fast forward to the 21st century and it is no secret that women have opinions. Due to this societal change, the true essence of Elizabeth Bennet may not be so obvious to a younger audience simply by reading the original novel. But as opposed to putting Elizabeth in a crop top and jeans, this movie uses zombies as a fun twist on a classic story. In doing so, this adaptation will intrigue fans of Austen, while making her intended message more digestible and appealing to a modern audience.
The characterization of key players is taken to the next level on-screen and it’s a key to why this story is so much easier to understand. If you didn’t think Mr. Collins could be any more ridiculous, you thought wrong. Played by Matt Smith, best known for his role as the Eleventh Doctor on the BBC show “Doctor Who,” this character was easily one of the most enjoyable parts of the movie.
However, in dumbing down the story, the plot is also rushed. While the basic story line is maintained, a lot of the romance is lost. The best part about watching or reading “Pride and Prejudice” is the longing you develop for Elizabeth and Mr. Darcy to get together and that warm, fuzzy feeling of love once you reach the end. At no point during the film are you made to feel this way and, unfortunately, you’re also not dying to know if they defeat the zombies. There was just something so strange about the combination of the Jane Austen and zombies that you couldn’t focus on the zombies enough to care about them.
Still, if you are obsessed with the 2005 film adaptation of “Pride and Prejudice” starring Keira Knightley, prepare to be pleasantly surprised. From her long brown hair to bone structure so sharp it could cut someone, Lily James, who plays Elizabeth Bennet in this version, bears a striking resemblance to Knightley. The sets are also nearly identical. For example, the main hub of the Bennets — the dining room — is the same deep, peacock blue.
Overall, the movie was entertaining. It did a good job of revitalizing the plot, but a lot of the heart of the story was lost in translation. While the majority of people probably won’t be rushing to the theaters to see it, it’ll serve as one of the weird-but-worth-watching movies once it hits Netflix.