If you’re reading this from the UK you’ll know that yesterday was a bitter day for many. A decision, integral to the structure of power, politics and economy was made by the public. Who by varying standards were misinformed, lied to, conned and bullied into picking Leave or Stay based on fear. This is how the EU Referendum was conducted – in fear. The two campaigns used tactics that sensationalised and confused a lot of people into making an ill-informed vote. Today we have headlines about British people google searching what the EU is, and that’s not even satire. Our currency has massive plummeted and we have caused £2 Trillion drop from the global market. Our borders will close and Europe will close to us. The worst PM since Margaret Thatcher has smugly resigned to allow the British Trump, Boris Johnson take control of the Conservative party and lined him up to become our leader. Scotland will have another vote for independence and leave the UK and radical right-wing fascism will grow to boiling point and violence and hatred will overcome this tiny, powerless island.
Worst-but-expected-case scenario there.
But I’m not really hear to talk about that, just wanted to add some context to this blog post. I’m here because today my wonderful housemate Tamara moves out to a new life in Birmingham and last night Rah and I treated her to a takeaway and a film. Of course we spent a long time trying to decide what film because we all have different tastes! In the end we decided on Pride, Prejudice and Zombies (2016) which none of us had seen and were all up for watching.
For anyone that knows me, they know that I LOVE Jane Austen, so I’ve read Pride and Prejudice and naturally watched the 2009 film with Kiera Knightly (The only thing I like her in apart from Bent It Like Beckham) and poured over the BBC classic series with Colin Firth. A few years ago Ivo’s sister gave me the book Pride, Prejudice and Zombies for Christmas and I was intrigued. I didn’t immediately start reading it, I think it might have been a year on or so before I picked it up. Once I had, I couldn’t really put it down! It was BRILLIANT. (No space to go into the book right now, but maybe I’ll touch on it later) When I discovered they were doing a film, I was pretty excited.
So here’s the premise: In the 18th Century a nasty plague developed and spread through Europe (sounds familiar?) and to England. The film itself is set in 1813 (presumably. That’s around the time the original was written and probably set). London has been cut off from the rest of the country, infected and collapsing, a giant wall is erected around it to protect Parliament, the Queen and the nobles (SOUND FAMILIAR?!) and then as an extra measure, a gigantic mote is dug out around the wall as an extra precaution and London is only accessible over one heavily guarded bridge (sound familiar?). This is the reason I gave real context to watching the film, because there were a lot of similarities with the political climate in Britain right now and it seemed fitting.
During this century of plague, it has become fashionable to learn ‘the arts of the orient’ (This film is ‘of the time’ in it’s language but not much else which is disappointing). Most of the nobles and rich families have learnt martial arts in Japan, but the Bennets, our heroines, have learnt their combat from the Shaolin Temple in China. (Interesting fact, that the ‘Shaolin School’ was exported to areas of Japan during the 18th Century where it was adapted into new styles like Karate.)
Our first look at the Bennet sisters (Jane, Elizabeth, Lydia, Kitty and Mary) are in the drawing room of their home, instead of the expected embroidary in their hands they are polishing knives, reloading and cleaning guns. Mr Bennet (Charles Dance, Games of Thrones) is with them as Mrs Bennet (the brilliant Sally Phillips) bustles in to tell everyone about the arrival of The Bingleys in town. The script, like the book, sticks to the original where it can, and the characters are dynamic, especially Mrs Bennet (who I will forever be bias as one of the best Austen characters). The general behaviour of everyone throughout the film is completely improper in relation to the time period, which is why some of the racial profiling (not that there are any POCs in this film at all) is not justified.
PP&Z is much more fast paced than the original storyline, perhaps because it has more to fit in, but I think it looses the essence of Austen in favour of a exciting zombie plot. Onto the ball and enter Mr Bingley (Douglas Booth) and Colonel Darcy. (Sam Riley) Darcy is a gentleman in the original but in this looks absolutely dashing in a leather gentleman-esk trench coat so whatever. Bingley (or Bing-a-ling as we nicknamed him) is as adorable as he is in every adaption of P&P. I LOVE him, I want to put him in my pocket. As I mentioned, the characters are much bolder than they would be in a more serious adaption but for the plot’s sake, I guess they wanted to move it on. So basically Jane and Bingley fall in love almost immediately, Darcy insults Elizabeth (Lily James) and she dashes outside to be alone and to vent privately about his behaviour.
From behind, a zombie appears, someone who used to be a friend of Elizabeth’s. To give credit where it is due, the zombies effects in this film are brilliant, they are disgusting and bloody and gorey. I was worried that it would skimp out on these details and hide the viewer from what zombie films are really about – blood and brains. But it delivered well. Anyway, Elizabeth is about to defend herself when the zombie’s head is blown to absolutely pieces and there’s blood everywhere. It’s GREAT. Mr Darcy saves her life, but Elizabeth doesn’t say thank you because he’s been a dick to her. Right on. Next, a zombie infestation breaks out in the house and the ball ends, not with the traditional dance in which Bingley can’t keep his eyes from Jane but in a absolutely beautiful montage of the Bennet sisters slow-mo entrance and complete massacre of the zombie-party goers whilst Darcy and Bingley look on, wide-eyed and impressed. Yeah, the most appealing thing about PP&Z for me is that the Bennett sisters all literally kick ass.
I won’t do a blow-by-blow account of the rest of the film but will mention that it is different from the book, which disappointed me somewhat. The added context about London and the plague was new to the film as well, and they seemed to follow this cue to make it a wider thing. I would have liked to have seem it more true to the book – in which the storyline was the same as P&P, but there were just, y’know, zombies. The film literally demonises Mr Wickham which gives him a much bigger role and Lydia ends up being saved from his clutches. The film completely ignores the end of the book, in which Elizabeth Bennett and Darcy’s aunt the Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Heady) fight to the death. Instead they make Lady Catherine into a bit of a comical character, rather than formidable and she has no real role in the film. However, her outfits are brilliant and they added a nice touch with the eye-patch.
The casting for this film is really good, with new faces (Bella Heathcote as Jane Bennet), recent heartthrobs Lily James (Cinderella, Downtown Abbey), Sam Riley (Maleficent) and Douglas Booth (Great Expectations) and well loved actors like Lena Heady (also heartthrob), Sally Phillips and Charles Dance. I think Matt Smith should get a special mention here as Parson Collins, because his charm and hilarity made many parts of this film great. If you’re familiar with the original character of Mr Collins, then Matt Smith’s performance is hugely exaggerated and theatrical. It’s so entertaining and really fits the overall tone of the film of not taking anything that seriously.
If you’re going to watch this film with the expectation of a great Austen adaption. Don’t. It’s not. It’s a total piss-take. More shambolic, granted, than the book which I think is better and if you get the chance, go and read it for something more accessible than Austen herself. The film is really entertaining but even I found myself thinking ‘she wouldn’t be allowed to do that!’ at times, because it really has no sense of the period. But if you like a bit of gore and silliness, I’d recommend it as a good Sunday afternoon film.