When the book was first published in 2009 it was understandably met with reactions of disapproval, curiosity, ridicule and probably confusion but nonetheless it managed to succeed and it was inevitable to find itself being adapted for the big screen. Written by Seth Grahame-Smith who also wrote Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter which did not overwhelm the box office, it is a parody of the classic, a hybrid of civilised love story and zombie apocalypse, beloved characters turned to warriors who can make time to talk about love and marriage when they’ve finished training or fighting. With Lily James as the stubborn heroin loved the world over, Elizabeth Bennet and Sam Riley as our stone faced Mr Darcy their love-hate relationship is still very much alive, just apparently a good portion of England isn’t. A blend of classic love story and zombie invasion, what’s strange about that?…A lot of the young cast will be familiar to audiences, if not getting a huge amount of fame as of yet, James (Cinderella, Downton Abbey, War and Peace), Riley (Maleficent, Byzantium, Brighton Rock), Douglas Booth (Jupiter Ascending, Noah) and Jack Huston (American Hustle, Kill Your Darlings), but it would definitely be difficult to argue that these are the best actors coming out of Britain. Each of them do a good enough job in the larger scheme of things but it feels that for most of them when more is asked of them, the limit to their acting talent becomes apparent. The manner of speech and look for the period works well despite any pitfalls of the acting and visually it would do quite well as an adaptation (if you remove the zombies), but if this were a real adaptation the acting from most would not quite be up to the challenge. Moving on to the better half of the cast, Sally Phillips who most would probably recognise for her part in the Bridget Jones films, does not disappoint as the materialistic Mrs Bennet who simply wants to push her daughters lovingly into the arms of any willing rich man. Lena Headey as Lady Catherine is possibly the character best transitioned from the original story to the parody, with amazing warrior skills and a killer eyepatch she has some great lines in the film but sadly it is one of the smaller parts. Then there’s the one actor who is the best thing that the film has to offer, Matt Smith as Parson Collins who despite being a rather detestable character is another that makes the leap to parody effortlessly, almost a combination of Frank Spencer and Basil Fawlty with so much admiration and respect…for himself, and of course anyone further up the social ladder for him to ride their coat-tails. Smith is the epitome of what this film should be, a parody that takes something rather serious and turns it into something almost ridiculous but in a humorous and entertaining way, instead of an adaptation which is simply deformed by zombies.
That is the exact thing that the film struggles with, for the first half we get the parody and it’s funny and the zombie element just adds to the humour and the contrast of a more civilised time is actually decent entertainment; it makes the parody between such a beloved story and zombie action actually work but that doesn’t last. The second half of the film moves away from the parody element in an attempt to carry out the actual story which makes the film head straight downhill and becomes just a version of Pride & Prejudice with a zombie problem and not with both elements working at the same time. Regardless of that, the film is actually shot quite well and is aesthetically pleasing seeing a zombie apocalypse with the background of some of the more beautiful parts of England, in place of the usual grungy city scenes. The other sense in which the film succeeds is the zombie make overs and effects, somehow they manage to make it disgusting but not altogether gory which for The Walking Dead fans will all seem quite PG.
As a whole the film is a mixed bag, personally going in with no expectations and an open mind, I found my expectations being lifted and then having them completely bottom out which is such a shame. This is not the best acting but then a film of this type was unlikely to attract the attention of the elite British acting world, and those that are of a more reliable quality actors stand out. The concept despite sounding ridiculous manages to work for the first half of the film and even has the potential to follow in the style displayed by films like Shaun of the Dead and if it had continued that style all the way through it would have been a much better film but sadly that’s not the case. The truth of the matter is that the film doesn’t need a strong story to succeed, it can take the basics and build itself on entertainment value rather than actual meaning, but as the writers and director chose to actually create a full story, the humour falls out of it and it becomes something very different which is of a much lower quality. The film raises your expectations before disappointing you and dragging you to the finish line which is a real pity.