Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opened on 5 February and is currently in cinemas all over the UK. Fans of the original by Jane Austen should prepare themselves for a film that uses the restraint of the era as a way to re-examine those social mores. In other words, it’s a positively delightful experience to see the sparkling, witty, timelessly brilliant Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) pull a knife out of her corset and butcher the undead. Even better, Mr Collins (Matt Smith) has been promoted from wonderful bit part in the novel to the absolute scene-stealer of the film version.
The movie takes it as a given that the bucolic Hertfordshire has been overrun with zombies, and Mr Darcy (a smouldering Sam Riley) is now in the military, charged with finding the undead, and then dispatching them. Mr Wickham (Jack Huston) is also involved in the zombie hunt, and even the kindly Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) is capable with a weapon. Happily, even the dreadful Lady Catherine is changed, and has a role in the zombie fight.
The five Bennet sisters have been trained in China in martial arts. Even that detail has complications, as most wealthy families chose Japan as the place to train their offspring. When Mr Bingley’s snobbish sisters mock Elizabeth’s Chinese training, she responds tartly in perfect Mandarin.
The cast clearly had fun filming the fight scenes, and there are enough of them to please even a diehard Matrix fan. But this is truly Matt Smith’s film. His Mr Collins is so deliciously awful – from his too-loud whisper, to his absurd dancing, to that embarrassment of a bow he tenders to Lady Catherine, Smith’s every moment on screen was hilarious.
So if you have any complaints about altering England’s most beloved novel, blame the glorious 1995 BBC version, which not only has Darcy in the tub (OMG) but has him swim (OMG OMG). Readers, there is another swimming scene. By now, we expect it and frankly, we deserve it.
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is not an Oscar contender, nor does it pretend to be. It is diverting, good fun, and a complete pleasure to watch such familiar and loved characters in a completely new context. If nothing else, this is recommended for Matt Smith’s leaps at the ball alone.