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Austen undead Pride and Prejudice and Zombies'

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Adaptation of literary mash-up marries gentility and gore

In 2009, writer Seth Graeme-Smith created a sensation with his literary mash-up 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies,' a work in which he took Jane Austen's 1813 novel and introduced a rash of zombie-related incidents into the narrative while still maintaining the basic structure of the original story.

After years struggling through the development process, the film adaptation has finally made it to the big screen. Directed by Burr Steers, who also wrote the adapted screenplay, 'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' takes two wildly incongruous parts the complex romance of Jane Austen's masterpiece and the lurid pulpiness of the zombie undead and attempts (mostly successfully) to make them one.

Two great tastes that should taste weird together, yet somehow don't.

In the early 19th century, England has been hit hard by a plague that turns the afflicted into unrelenting monsters, undead zombies that crave nothing more than to devour human brains. A hundred-foot wall has been built around London, while a bit farther out, an enormous moat has been constructed. Despite the presence of these creatures, the aristocracy still strives to continue living their genteel lives.

Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James, 'Burnt') lives in this world. She and her sisters Jane (Bella Heathcote, 'The Curse of Downers Grove'), Lydia (Ellie Bamber, 'The Falling'), Mary (Millie Brady, 'Legend') and Kitty (Suki Waterhouse, 'Insurgent') live with their father (Charles Dance, TV's 'Game of Thrones') and mother (Sally Phillips, 'Burn Burn Burn') on their family estate. Rather than worry about turning his daughters into proper ladies, he has instead focused on teaching them the ways of combat all five have extensive weapons and hand-to-hand combat training so that they might be able to defend themselves against the zombie scourge.

However, society life goes on. When the wealthy Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth, 'Jupiter Ascending') arrives in the area, he is greatly sought after by the eligible ladies, though it is Jane Bennet that catches his eye. However, his dark and brooding friend Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley, 'Maleficent') a noted zombie killer is deemed to be less impressive; in particular, there's an instant antipathy between him and Elizabeth.

Meanwhile, Elizabeth finds herself the object of unwanted wooing by her cousin Parson Collins (Matt Smith, 'Terminator Genisys') while also meeting a charming officer named Wickham (Jack Huston, 'The Longest Ride').

Of course, zombies wait for nothing not even love. When an undead surge begins that puts all of England in danger of falling, all are thrust into the middle. Everyone from the Bennets to the legendary swordswoman Lady Catherine de Bourgh (Lena Headey, TV's 'Game of Thrones') must take up arms and fight if England is to have any hope of survival. And Elizabeth Bennet must lay down her pride if she is to have any hope of finding love.

I'll be the first to admit that 'Pride and Prejudice' and really, Jane Austen in general leaves me cold. However, there's an undeniable universality to the love story that plays out in its pages. Even a non-fan such as myself can't help but feel the impact of those romantic ups-and-downs. Of course, if you add zombies into that equation, my interest is absolutely going to be piqued.

The mash-up shouldn't work. The disconnect between the two genres should be too much to overcome. And yes, there are some moments where it doesn't quite click. However, most of the time, the combination comes off fairly well; occasionally, it even achieves something close to seamlessness. Watching the various courtships play out against a backdrop of battles against the undead is fun, yes, but also surprisingly moving at times.

The cast is packed with British talent; they're actually the same actors you'd hope to cast in a straightforward Austen adaptation or other period piece. The sensibility that they bring greatly enhances the proceedings; no one is treating the story as beneath them. They are investing honestly and wholeheartedly in the story, as outlandish as it is. That allows both sides the original comic romance and the newly-injected undead gore to function fully, to elevate one another as opposed to undercutting. James and Riley, Heathcote and Booth, Dance and Headey and Phillips and Huston all are excellent fits.

'Pride and Prejudice and Zombies' has its flaws the pacing lags and there's an occasional sense of lifelessness (no pun intended). However, those missteps are a small price to pay for those moments when all the pieces click into place. It's a fun movie that lends a wonderfully weird new energy to a literary classic.

[4 out of 5]

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