Inquiring readers, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,’ the movie, has finally arrived. Almost seven years ago I had a blast reviewing Seth Grahame-Smith’s audacious novel, ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, and suggested a few satirical book plots of my own. Click here to read JAW’s review of Seth’s tome, which retained 15% of Jane Austen’s words and embellished Jane’s plot a wee bit by adding hordes of ravenous zombies that had overrun Regency England. For those who are eager to see the cinematic version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ melded with Shaun of the Dead, may we suggest that you read the parody book before viewing the movie?
Quirk Books has asked me to recall some of my favorite scenes from the book. I invited my good friend, Hillary Major, to trip down memory lane with me. She had read Seth’s book front to back in 2007 and recently reacquainted herself with the plot by way of a fabulous graphic novel based on the book.
When I first read Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, I was struck by the wit – the humorous juxtaposition of Austen’s words with Graham-Smith’s pulpy additions, as when Miss Bingley asserts that an accomplished woman “must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, dancing and the modern languages” as well as being “well trained in the fighting styles of the Kyoto masters and the tactics and weaponry of modern Europe.” As I re-familiarized myself by reading the graphic novel version of the book, I found much of the wit retained through the dialogue and (infrequent) captions. The graphic novel, of course, fleshes out the combat scenes and does a particularly good job of capturing the sorry stricken – from the former residents of Mrs. Beecham’s Home for Orphans to lamp oil salesgirl Penny McGregor to an undead Madonna and a certain longsuffering bride. The graphic novel pulls out the fun and the horror in the action sequences but also raises my curiosity about how the movie will put these scenes into motion.
But really, how interesting are zombies as villains? What’s their motivation? Yes, yes, I know, it’s a truth universally acknowledged: brains and more brains. Still, there’s a certain sameness and routine to a zombie enemy. Zombies are really only dangerous in numbers – unless you happen to be an unfortunate messenger or a cook, which Lizzie Bennet most emphatically is not. My favorite parts of the book (and graphic novel) jump out not because of how they deal with the scourge of unmentionables but because of the way they showcase Lizzie as a total badass, armed not just with rapier wit but with actual dagger and katana.
Lizzie’s competence, strategy, and skill in the deadly arts are singular from the beginning; we first see her “carving the Bennet crest in the handle of a new sword.” When Lizzie and her sisters first jump into action at the Lucas’ ball – responding to Mr. Bennett’s shouted command, “Pentagram of Death!” – it’s a stirring moment. (Darcy takes notice.)
But Elizabeth Bennet is a warrior worthy of an enemy greater than brainless zombies – thus, we meet Lady Catherine, commander of ninjas. Lady Catherine de Bourgh has always put the cat in catfight, and this comes to literal life in her final confrontation with Lizzie. Who hasn’t applauded Lizzie’s refusal to promise never to become betrothed to Darcy and wished the statement were punctuated by a punch in the Lady’s face? Here, the verbal showdown is prequel to a martial arts battle, one that takes place in the Bennets’ own dojo. Lady Catherine gets in a few good blows early on, but Lizzie comes back with a dagger thrust, and soon Lady Catherine is flying through the air, breaking rafters. In the midst of all the “flying about” in a leaping, kicking, katana-wielding martial arts fantasy of a fight, Lizzie descends (from an unbroken rafter) at a key moment and batters away her adversary’s sword, leaving Lady Catherine at her mercy. Lizzie lets her live, knowing she has been “bested by a girl for whom [she has] no regard,” showing more mercy than Catherine would have offered her (or than Lizzie shows the ninja retainers). It’s this throwdown and victory over Lady Catherine that truly sets up the ending of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, of Lizzie and Darcy fighting side by side.
For my part, gentle readers, I shall never forget how Charlotte Collins, nee Lucas, slowly turned into a zombie after being bitten by a ghoul. Lizzie promised to remain true to her friend, but as the poor woman’s physical condition deteriorated, it was hard for visitors not to notice her unfortunate appearance or the fact that she was wont to nibble on her hand. One really has to laugh at some of the more ridiculous scenes and one can’t help but wonder how the exuberant young Jane Austen, who wrote the ‘Juvenilia,’ would have reacted to this mashup of her most famous novel.
The powers that be in Hollywood took seven years to find a Lizzie (Lily James) and Darcy (Sam Riley) worthy of becoming skilled zombie fighters trained by the finest masters in the martial arts. To my way of thinking, Lena Heady’s turn in playing Lady Catherine de Bourgh with an eye patch is worth the price of admission alone.
While I understand that many Jane Austen fans will refuse to see the film, some of us in our Janeite group can’t wait to see it. Love or hate the idea, feel free to let us know your thoughts.