Film review of the adaptation of the novel by Jane Austen, with additional material from Seth Grahame-Smith, following the adventures of the spirited Bennett sisters, beauties of minor society in Regency England who must do battle with an army of the undead, simultaneously traversing the rights of courtship with a group of handsome male suitors.
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Director: Burr Steers. (108 mins).
Cast & credits
Producers: Marc Butan, Sean McKittrick, Brian Oliver, Natalie Portman, Annette Savitch, Allison Shearmur, Tyler Thompson.
Writer: Burr Stears.
Camera: Remi Adefarasin.
Music: Fernando Velázquez.
Sets: David Warren.
Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Ellie Bamber, Millie Brady, Suki Waterhouse, Douglas Booth, Sally Phillips, Charles Dance, Jack Huston, Lena Headey, Matt Smith, Emma Greenwell.
After a zombie apocalypse in the late 18th century, London has been walled off in case of further outbreaks of the undead, a huge moat encircling it and with only one bridge in or out.
In rural Hertfordshire just north of the capital, Mr Bennett (Dance) has trained his five daughters to become zombie hunting warriors, but their mother (Phillips) is only interested in finding them good, and by that she means rich, husbands. Eldest daughter Elizabeth (James), the strongest and most intelligent of the Bennett girls, finds herself courted by the proud and snobbish Mr D’Arcy (Riley), himself a champion zombie killer. The two are instantly attracted to each other but their personalities mean they clash from the start.
“It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie with brains must be in want of more brains.”
It is quite possible, however ridiculous, that Jane Austen was going to include the walking dead in her classic romantic novel Pride and Prejudice but, in one of the most famous instances of writer’s block, got stuck on the story, abandoned it and focused instead on living human characters.
Or, maybe not.
For anyone who has even a passing acquaintance me, they know there are three main types of film that always go to the top of my ‘must see’ list: disaster drama, period drama and zombie horror.
Ergo, it’s no surprise I sauntered to the local Cineworld to catch this little beauty, an adaptation of the eye-catching, if not entirely satisfying, literature mash-up by Seth Grahame-Smith and, erm, Ms Austen.
I have to admit, excited though I was to read Grahame-Smith’s update of the classic tome, I felt it was a let down. A simple copy job of the Austen text with the odd zombie related paragraph pasted in, it was a bit of a chore to read.
It wasn’t going to take much for a film adaptation to go the same way, but thankfully the film as viewed sounds and flows better than the text on the book’s page – the two elements are mixed together more successfully on film and there is a lot less of the ‘classic’ waffle.
In fact, the story has been pruned considerably. The total running time is under two hours but the pace is highly spirited – we zip along at a fair horse’s canter until the old Jane Austen elements of the story become nothing but mere narrative sign-posts along the way.
The script contains enough drollery (“Who would dare to leave a zombie in the middle of the floor?” says a card playing lady after one has had it’s head cleaved in by Mr D’Arcy) to raise a ghoulish smile and it’s refreshing, after all of the endlessly pale, endlessly similar, faithful adaptations of yore to see D’Arcy and Elizabeth finally square up and kick each other about a drawing room rather than fling arch comments, arched eyebrows and delectable sounding (from a clever screenwriter’s point of view only) bons mots.
It’s period drama for the Kick Ass generation featuring the most beautiful of English casts.
Everyone’s favourite English rose of the moment James and 60-a-day-voiced Riley might lead in the performance stakes, but its Heathcote as Jane and especially Booth as Mr Bingham who romp away in the catwalk-looks stakes.
In terms of action, gore, humour and good old zombie-slaying ‘fun’, this film is worth a hundred episodes of dull and repetitive Walking Dead, even if the final result oddly shies away from pushing further with its amusingly oddball take on Austen’s work.
NB: Portman’s name on the producing credits, but without the lady herself making an appearance, is a surprise addition.
See the official trailer on Youtube.