I have to confess – I’ve never actually read Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, but I’ve heard the basic story told time and time again, in adaptions such as Joe Wright’s 2005 film of the same name (starring Kiera Knightley and Matthew MacFadyen), and other films based around it, such as The Jane Austen Book Club (2007) directed by Robin Swicord. However, I never expected to see it done quite like I did in the film Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Taking all the romance, class rivalry and relationship drama from the original, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies captures Austen’s story and infuses it with the imminent threat of a zombie apocalypse! The story is transformed into a fast-paced hybrid of drama, comedy and horror, which poses the perfect opportunity for the Bennett sisters to evolve into much more than just daughters and wives.
In the film, the sisters are re-envisioned as Shaolin warriors, exhibiting exceptional fighting skills, as time after time they save the day, crushing zombie skulls and dismembering the undead with prowess – all while still dressed in traditional Victorian dress. On top of providing a wonderful viewing spectacle, this development of the Bennett sisters does wonders for the progressive representation of women in the film – especially given the restrictions imposed by the Victorian time period. These women step outside the norms of Regency England; their fighting abilities empowering them and providing them at least one environment of equality: the battlefield. Most importantly, they maintain their femininity. Instead of being written as masculinised fighting figures, these women are complex characters, displaying both traditionally masculine and feminine traits and characteristics simultaneously, which works to disrupt traditional and contemporary gendered stereotypes. A superb example of this is when sisters Elizabeth (Lily James) and Jane (Bella Heathcote) engage in a playful and excited discussion about their potential suitors, all the while engaged in a physically violent and fierce training fight in which they kick and throw each other across the room. They are multidimensional female characters who are concerned about love and relationships, are well-presented and poised, and are also simultaneously strong, spirited, and preoccupied with saving themselves and their loved ones from the zombie apocalypse. Through the Bennett sisters the stereotype of the fickle, dependent woman is destroyed by a warrior woman wielding a katana sword!
In the film, Elizabeth Bennett, the lead protagonist, is written in her most feminist form to date. Following Austen’s plot line, Mrs. Bennett pushes for her daughter to get married based on perceived necessity and financial security, however, Elizabeth refuses to marry for anything other than love. She is an independent woman, perfectly content and capable of defending herself without any man by her side. Steadfast in her ideals and lifestyle she states, “I will never relinquish my sword for a ring…the right man wouldn’t ask me too”, affirming that she will not give up who she is just for the purpose of becoming a wife. It is through this sentiment that the film reinforces a narrative based on individual female empowerment and choice.
In keeping with Austen’s story, Elizabeth finally falls for Mr. Darcy, played by Sam Riley, and the film ends with the scene of their marriage. Although it may appear that in entering this marriage Elizabeth submits to the wishes of her mother, relinquishing her independence and following the prescribed social order, in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies this is not the case. Elizabeth does not marry Mr. Darcy out of necessity – she does so because she falls in love with him, and most importantly, their marriage is one of equality. In comparison to Elizabeth’s previous suitor Mr. Collins (Matt Smith) who expects her to submit to him, and give up being a warrior upon marriage, Mr. Darcy has a great respect for Elizabeth’s skills and considers them a necessity. In one of the last scenes of the film, Elizabeth actually saves Mr. Darcy from a zombie attack and carries him to safety of her horse, establishing a equality in their relationship – as Mr. Darcy has protected Elizabeth from zombies in the past – and most importantly a mutual respect, not just on the battlefield, but in their relationship as well.
Even though Pride and Prejudice and Zombies might not receive the critical acclaim that Austen’s original received, and it certainly isn’t Oscar worthy by any stretch of the imagination, it still remains an entertaining film in which we see girls kick some serious zombie ass!