More zombie fest than love story

Lily James fights the undead as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies.
Lily James fights the undead as Elizabeth Bennet in Pride And Prejudice And Zombies.PHOTO: CATHAY-KERIS FILMS

Most of the male cast treat Pride And Prejudice And Zombies as an episode of The Walking Dead



117 minutes/opens tomorrow/ 3 stars

The story: Jane Austen's classic love story is reworked, with feisty Elizabeth Bennet (Lily James) reluctantly teaming up with the arrogant Mr Darcy (Sam Riley) to fight the undead.

How do zombies fit into Jane Austen's stuffy world of Regency England?

Not particularly well. The genre mash-up is too awkward for much of this film.

It starts off rather promisingly, sending up the hilariously ridiculous premise taken from Seth Grahame-Smith's best-selling parody novel of the same name. On top of the pressures of having to get married, the Bennet girls here have to deal with constant run-ins with flesh-eating zombies.

Not that these girls are damsels in distress - they are "warrior daughters" who are proud of their martial-arts training and who choose to gossip about boys during sparring practice rather than while braiding one another's hair.

The film also remembers to hark back often to the classic Austen novel that it is parodying, lifting recognisable lines and snippets of dialogue from the book and appropriating them in new ways.

The problem arises when some of the cast members start taking the project a little too seriously.

Save for Doctor Who alumnus Matt Smith, who steals scenes as the Bennets' campy cousin Mr Collins, the rest of the men treat this film as if it were an episode of The Walking Dead, when it really should be more along the lines of Shaun Of The Dead (2004).

British actor Sam Riley, who plays leading man Mr Darcy, often appears a lot more interested in tackling the undead than wooing Elizabeth. Lacking both the charm and mystery required of the character, he is one of the more forgettable Darcys to appear in recent years, even as he feebly attempts to re-create Colin Firth's famous sexy wet shirt scene from the beloved 1995 BBC TV miniseries adaptation of the original novel.

All of the spotlight in this love story then rests solely on Lily James' Elizabeth, but that is just fine because the Cinderella (2015) star is fantastic.

Plucky and vulnerable in equal measure, she never forgets that this is just meant to be cheesy fun and clearly has a blast with her role.

A woman better than the men? Austen would have approved.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on February 10, 2016, with the headline 'More zombie fest than love story'. Print Edition | Subscribe