Ok, so I should start this post by saying that I LOVE the movies and am easily entertained – if I take confession further, I also loved Roy Rogers, thought I WAS Dale Evans, and dressed exclusively as Annie Oakley for about four years – so please keep that in mind when I tell you I LOVED this movie…
But then I also liked the 2005 Pride & Prejudice, one among few at the JASNA AGM in Milwaukee . While most everyone was disgusted with the pigs in the kitchen, the Bennets having a sex life, and a Darcy with chest hair exposed at early dawn, I just sat there for two+ hours with a smile on my face – they got it! I thought – the sense of the story, albeit compacted, but in the end Austen’s tale, her characters, her wit was all there (I do think you had to like Keira Knightley to like the movie…and I do concede the American ending was atrocious). No one can duplicate the 1995 Ehle-Firth – it is brilliant and 20 years on, still nearly a perfect adaptation – but I think Joe Wright got it right enough in 2005, much like Clueless gave us a perfectly rendered Emma set 200 years later. How well Austen translates to different worlds, different tellings.
So Pride & Prejudice & Zombies? – does Austen translate into a world of the undead? Blood and guts amidst Regency gowns and an etiquette-proscribed society? I didn’t think so – as much as my early years of “Million Dollar Movie” trained me well (can re-watch Roman Holiday, An Affair to Remember over and over and still cry every time), such things as Mummies and Zombies and Vampires and Blobs, and any and all Creatures of the Deep were never my cup of tea. I much prefer spies and westerns and civilized space invaders to anything emerging from a decaying earth. But I did buy P&P&Z – every self-respecting Jane Austen collector should have it on their shelf, a must-have really, but alas! there it sits unread – I couldn’t get past the first mention of “a zombie in possession of brains,” whether universally acknowledged or not. Indeed the frontispiece alone told it all:
“A few of the guests, who had the misfortune of being too near the windows, were seized and feasted on at once”
And that’s about all I needed to know – with 85% of the language from Jane, I felt creepily imaginative enough to fill in the other 15%… – so perhaps I am not a fair critic – I don’t know how much it follows the Grahame-Smith invention – but I went only to see a visual presentation of a P&P set in your everyday zombie-infested England – sort of a black plague on steroids… and what we really have here is the base story of P&P, a good solid dose of Austenian wit, a few drastic changes to the plot to make it fit into this rather gross world, and really just good plain fun.
But I must set the scene first: This was a spur of the moment decision to see this movie (a late matinee) – a quick email to my Jane Austen cohorts brought various no’s – other plans, hate zombies, etc., all good excuses, and there was no inducing my husband on this one – so I went alone, afraid the movie won’t be around here very long – and when I say alone, I mean ALONE – there was not another single soul in the theater! – a private screening (do they run a film if NO ONE shows up?) – I had no idea what to expect – I have purposely read no reviews, avoided all press on the movie, so I was there quite innocent of the oncoming mayhem – so I hunkered down and only briefly considered the gruesome truth that it was just me and the zombies, and me without a single weapon…
So here goes my checklist of a review, brief to avoid spoilers of any kind… and with my emphatic advice to just go see it…
Bella Heathcote (Jane) and Lily James (Lizzie)
- Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James): other than periodically confusing her with Natasha in the just-finished-the night-before War & Peace (some of the clothing strikingly similar – same time period so I guess it should), James makes a compelling Lizzie – those “fine eyes” are very present, she’s a terrific and fearless warrior, and I am sure that Andrew Davies must have had a hand here, or at least sat in a sub-director chair bellowing “more heaving bosoms please”… But this Lizzie is also Darcy’s equal in every way… and loved watching them find their way to each other… expertly slinging all manner of machetes along the way.
- Mr. and Mrs. Bennet (Charles Dance and Sally Phillips): well cast, all the right lines there to clearly identify them as Austen’s parents, she ridiculous and he negligent (though Charles Dance, thankfully resurrected from Games of Thrones, and still hiding in his Library, did have the good sense to have his girls (and all FIVE are present and accounted for) trained as warriors). There is no embroidery or ribbons for these young ladies (though all are stunningly dressed!)- they spend their idle hours cleaning weapons – one feels safe in such a home as this.
The Bennet Sisters, warriors all (youtube)
- Lady Catherine (Lena Headey, in Game of Thrones mode) – ha! – delightful – a black patch becomes her…
Lena Headey as Lady Catherine (winteriscomingblog)
- Wickham (Jack Huston) – Huston was perhaps born for this role – Wickham’s evil side taken to new heights – I shall say only this so as not to give anything away – “pig brains.”
Jack Huston as Wickham (finalreel.co.uk)
- Who knew that Charlotte Lucas snores?? – one can almost have sympathy for Mr. Collins… well maybe just a little…
6. Ok, Darcy’s turn…
Sam Riley as Darcy (screenrant)
Darcy, or “Fitz” as Wickham affectionately calls him (Sam Riley): I expect black leather great coats to become the latest fashion statement– too reminiscent of Nazi-Germany perhaps, but at least the costume here of the good guys. Riley shall be added to the Darcy roster, another name to check off in the endless “your favorite Darcy” polls – this Darcy, no idle aristocrat tending his own land, but fully armed with a small jar of dead-skin-detecting flies, is a Colonel in the Zombie-Annihilating Army, who like his black-clad not-so-distant cousin Batman, has the good sense to show up at exactly the right time, every time. (And obsessed Firth fans, have no fear – there is the barest glimpse of that essential piece of male wardrobe – the white shirt). Smitten with Elizabeth from the first look (after his initial requisite “she is tolerable” speech), his heartfelt but so hopelessly cringe-inducing proposal results in more than just Austen’s war of words – oh, most of the words are there, purists don’t worry, but if we line up all the available proposal scenes (such fun to do this – there are eleven I think, if you include Wishbone…) – this one shall surpass them all for pure energy and brilliant choreography… (and Davies was definitely here for this, coaching the proper removal of buttons…).
Here’s the rest of him:
- All other characters terrific – Jane and Bingley, alas! Caroline given short-shift, Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) as good as any of his predecessors, a stone-like Anne De Bourgh…
Matt Smith as Mr. Collins (craveonline)
- Fun things to look for: lots of Austen quotes from her various writings – it will keep the Austen-knowledgeables on their toes and give the Austen newbies a new found appreciation of her brilliance. They might even go on to read the real book, sans zombies. My favorite line: “…if adventures will not befall a young lady in her own village, she must seek them abroad” – and thus a zombie warrior is called to her destiny. [quiz: which novel?]
- The Zombies? – and Austen? If one is tempted to shake their heads in disgust and moan “Austen must be rolling over in her grave” – perhaps not an apt phrase for this particular story line – please go see it before you profess to know how Jane might feel. All told, this latest adaptation has a deep respect for the original text. It is not a “camp” over-the-top retelling but rather it seems to take the realities of this invasion of England very seriously – just another human-induced war of Good vs. Evil, no different perhaps than depicting Napoleon and the French army conquering the shores of England, a valid fear in Austen’s day. There are laughs to be sure – who cannot when a demure-looking Elizabeth suddenly hoists up her Regency finery to expose her sword-clad leg, grabs her weapons, and deftly slices off the head of a trespassing undead; or Darcy, in his frustration over Lizzie’s refusal, engaging in sword-play with most of Lady Catherine’s lovingly sculptured boxwood topiaries. Mr. Collins at the dance? – he’s perfect; the black-patched Lady Catherine (fashion or function? asks Mrs. Bennet) as the Queen of Zombie Warriors? – Game of Thrones trained her well… So much of it all laugh-out loud (does one laugh-out loud if alone in a movie theater?)
But no, not “camp” at all – this all just seems to be almost real, a straight-on approach to a real threat to life as we know it, no one’s tongue in their cheek (well, maybe a little). One must just let go and get into the spirit of the thing, beginning with the introduction, a clever illustrated story-book depiction of the past 100 years of the zombie epidemic. And wonderful to know that all of Austen’s characters seamlessly fit into this world – I think she’d be far from a turn-over in her grave, appalled at yet another mash-up of her “light, bright and sparkling” tale – I think she’d be sitting up and shouting Brava! Bravo! to her Elizabeth and Darcy and everyone else involved. It is after all, not much removed from her very own Juvenilia.
And the zombies themselves? Rest assured, they are really not that bad (have you seen The Picture of Dorian Gray recently?) – a few gruesome faces with blood and snot and rot, but all thankfully quickly dispatched – heads removed, bodies kicked and stomped with boots (lovely boots) – and most of it done in a flash or just shy of camera-range – brilliantly done really – and I confess to only once or twice turning around in the empty theater to be sure I was indeed alone…
One piece of advice – stay for the credits…
[Stay tuned for another post with links to reviews, etc.]
c2106 Jane Austen in Vermont