By Lois Kennedy
Director: Burr Steers
Cast: Lily James, Sam Riley, Bella Heathcote, Douglas Booth, Charles Dance, Lena Headey, Matt Smith
It’s nineteenth century England, and the country is overrun with zombies. People have taken to training in the deadly arts of Japan and China, and though they’re giving the zombies what-for, they have a vast amount of them to fight. Enter the Bennet family, Mr. and Mrs. Bennet and their five daughters Lizzy, Jane, Lydia, Kitty, and Mary. All five young ladies are skilled warriors, but they have a bigger battle ahead of them: their mother wants them to get married off as quickly as possible, ideally to rich guys, whether they love them or not. A number of suitors appear, but will the romances work out? And will anyone survive the zombie apocalypse?
I had no great investment in the movie to start with; I’m not a zombie fan, nor had I read any of the books that inspired the movie. I work at the public library and it passed in front of me, so I decided to give it a shot. I was taken by the opening, wherein the narrator states, “It is a truth universally acknowledged that a zombie in possession of brains must be in want of more brains.” We’re then shown how nineteenth century Englanders react to zombies, and it’s funny and original. The Bennet sisters are gathered together, laughing and cleaning their guns. When they go to a ball, they make sure to bring an arsenal of concealed weapons under their gowns. We get a dazzling slow motion sequence of the ladies kicking zombie ass. We see them sparring with each other while having an intelligent conversation.
I wish I could say the whole movie was this interesting and fun. It is not. It drags majorly in the middle, with the concentration on who Lizzy is going to marry and how she feels about Colonel Darcy and Jane’s suitor Charles being separated from her. I didn’t mind the romance too much, but I wished there had been more fight sequences. We’re treated to a fierce warrior, Lady Catherine, but she doesn’t do much besides sit and snipe at people. I also have to gripe about how, during a fist fight between Darcy and Lizzy, he appears to be winning until he accidentally cuts the bodice of her dress, and then she gains the advantage. In addition, Lydia, Mary, and Kitty are mostly throwaway characters who fade into the background after the first few minutes; the focus is on Lizzy and Jane, who are perceived by everyone as the two prettiest.
However, the movie tries very hard to make a feminist statement. Lizzy is put off by a suitor who tells her she must quit fighting zombies after they get married. Darcy admires her for who she is. The women prove that women can be both warriors and cultured, showing a different version of femininity. Above all, men and women are depicted as equals. Lizzy (despite multiple scenes of her crying) is an equal to Darcy. She’s wise in that she feels but also is logical, while at times Darcy lets his emotions cloud his decisions.
The performances are great, from the asskicking Bennet sisters to their suitors. And of course Matt Smith as the sisters’ obnoxious cousin Parson Collins and Lena Headey as Lady Catherine. Overall, I enjoyed it. It’s not scary or terrifically gory; there are some rotted faces and heads blowing up, but most dismembering takes place off camera, so it ought to appeal to fans of many genres, both men and women. Give it a look if you’re in the mood for some period piece zombie attacks. Stick around for the end credits for a prologue scene and a rousing rendition of “Ring Around the Zombie.”