Trip to the pictures to see ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’, based on the 2009 ‘mash-up’ novel by Seth Grahame-Smith – for those unfamiliar, this genre typically grafts horror onto a classic text.
Jane Austen, who famously declared two or three families in a small village the very thing to work on, would surely be spinning in her grave at the adulteration of her work, but the splicing of schlock onto a much-loved late-Romantic novel was surprisingly successful and at times almost seamless. In this society, the feminine accomplishments of embroidery and sketching are secondary to the martial arts – Japanese for the privileged aristocracy; Chinese for less fortunate gentlewomen. A nice point when Caroline Bingley enacts social exclusion by speaking in the high-status Japanese; Lizzie responds to the snub in kind, plucking The Art of War from a bookshelf and declaring in fluent Cantonese that if it has not been read in the original language it has not been read at all. The mash-up also allows crude physical expression of Lizzie’s seditious spirit, which in the original is confined largely to her rapier-like tongue. The zombie strand is not always so happily integrated – the division of zombie society by an aristocratic minority who lord it over the common undead was rather laboured.
Confusion (for viewers of a certain age) in that Lily James, who is spot on as Lizzie Bennett zombies or no zombies, bears more than a passing resemblance to Elizabeth Garvie of the 1980 BBC TV adaptation. She is also fresh from her role as Natasha Rostova in the beautifully produced BBC serial War and Peace. To compound this confusion, her poor, plain friend Charlotte Lucas is played by Aisling Loftus (poor, plain cousin Sonya in War and Peace), while the famous lake scene, which elevated Colin Firth to sex-symbol status but is not part of Austen’s novel, is nicked from the 1995 BBC version.
The film raises a hornet’s nest of adaptation issues, but such is the cultural influence of the novel (and presumably the desire of those involved to appeal if at all possible to Austen acolytes as well as horror-lovers), that the spirit of the original can still be discerned through TV intertexts and in spite of the mash-up. It’s absolutely bonkers, but visually appealing and quite entertaining. Worth a fiver (cinema tickets seem to have got cheaper) if you have a free evening. On the other hand, you could also safely wait until it comes on the telly.