Zombies breathe new life into literary classic
In a world where matchmaking is everything and “sensible” ladies are confined to the drawing room, the last thing the Bennet sisters need is to fight off a horde of zombies, yet that’s exactly what happens in the upcoming film “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.” Austen purists might object: “Subtlety is all but ruined in this heightened culture of ours.” Zombie aficionados might lament: “I find it hard to believe Lizzy Bennet can knock down an actual zombie while wearing a corset.” Notwithstanding, whether one be posh or nerd or somewhere in between, I believe there does exist a Venn diagram where the Victorian gentry and the walking dead overlap. The film comes to theaters on Feb. 5.
Any modern moviegoer might recognize that Hollywood has long been infected by zombie fever. The undead seem to cross genres, from the eye-candy series, “Resident Evil,” to the rom-com, “Warm Bodies.” Since the classic novel entered the public domain, filmmakers have taken Austen’s “Pride and Prejudice” to both the silver screen, notably in the BBC series starring Colin Firth, and the big screen in the 2005 adaptation starring Keira Knightley. By combining zombies to Austen’s prim and proper world, some might worry that the film will erase Austen’s nuances. Lily James, who plays Elizabeth “Lizzy” Bennet, disagrees.
“What we all found that was kind of crazy was that it took something so surreal and strange of zombies and “Pride and Prejudice” … the themes and relationship in the book become heightened,” James said. “It was just interesting how the zombies kind of contributed.”
Despite being undead, the zombies breathe life into the film. Co-star Matt Smith, who plays the insufferable Mr. Collins, described portraying a character in the world of the living dead.
“When there are zombies in the film, somehow that allows you to make bold choices because the laws of the universe are slightly heightened,” Smith said. “[You can] reinvent characters much like you would play Hamlet.”
On the flip side, one might wonder whether a sophisticated commentary on class hierarchy and 19th-century feminism would drain the lifeblood from a zombie flick. Take, for example, the poised and reserved Jane Bennet, whose characteristic restraint is not your typical zombie apocalypse material. In this revamped version, even Jane, played by Bella Heathcote, gets to express herself in the form of slicing an animated corpse to bits, an element of the character which Heathcote says she enjoyed depicting.
“It’s pretty rare that I get to kick ass as I usually get cast as the girl-next-door wallflower type,” Heathcote said. “So it’s a good thing to have a physical role and actually get to beat the crap out of someone.”
Some may still think that Jane Austen’s classic is untouchable by mortal hands and immutable by time. Likewise, it might seem like the slew of cannibalistic corpses that we so love and Hollywood’s appetite for zombies know no end. To have both under the same sun, however – “Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” may be all we get. Unless they make a sequel, of course.
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Robert Eggers is a filmmaker whose work has been defined by its small scale and intensive focus on characters. His prior films, “The Witch” and “The Lighthouse,” both feature a small cast and embrace environmental horror as terrifying events slowly pull the main ensemble apart. His reputation for his smaller scale and focus is partly why “The Northman” was so interesting upon its announcement — “The Northman” blows up Egger’s storytelling onto a massive scale. The locations, number of characters, and time period all dwarf his prior films. For the most part, Eggers steps up to the plate, succeeding in his ambition. “The Northman” will be available to watch in theaters April 22.