Slayin’ Austen

SFX - - Contents - Sam Ashurst

So, does the film live up to the ti­tle?

re­leased 11 Fe­bru­ary 15 | 108 min­utes

Di­rec­tor Burr Steers

Cast Lily James, Sam Ri­ley, Matt Smith,

Lena Headey, Charles Dance

“A woman is ei­ther highly trained or highly re­fined,” Lily James’s kick- ass hero­ine Lizzy Bennet says, de­fend­ing her ded­i­ca­tion to mar­tial arts. “One can­not af­ford the lux­ury of both in these times.” On this ev­i­dence, a film can ei­ther be a cos­tume drama or a hor­ror film. Pride And Prej­u­dice And Zom­bies can’t de­liver both, de­spite six years of hellish de­vel­op­ment.

Which isn’t to say it’s an un­faith­ful adap­ta­tion. Back in 2008, Quirk Books ed­i­tor Ja­son Reku­lak wrote a list of ( his words), “Pop­u­lar fan­boy char­ac­ters like nin­jas, pi­rates, zom­bies, and mon­keys,” then shoved them into as many pub­lic do­main books as pos­si­ble. Pride And Prej­u­dice got nin­jas and zom­bies, the best ti­tle of the lot, and an in­ex­pli­ca­bly ra­bid fan­base, who’d prob­a­bly en­joy a fam­ily mem­ber’s wake if you stuck a zom­bie into it.

The big- screen ver­sion sticks fairly closely to that set text, and has all the prob­lems you’d ex­pect of a Jane Austen story with undead mon­sters scat­tered hap­haz­ardly through­out. The film ap­pears to have been cast us­ing the same mind­set in which the book was cre­ated, with pop­u­lar fan- fave ac­tors – in­clud­ing one Doc­tor Who ( Matt Smith) and two of Game Of Thrones’ Lan­nis­ters ( Charles Dance, Lena Headey) – mak­ing all- too- brief ap­pear­ances which amount to lit­tle more than ex­tended cameos.

The plot throws us face- first into a Re­gency- era Eng­land in which zom­bies aren’t just ac­cepted as a re­al­ity, but are fought on a daily ba­sis by any­one within arm’s reach of a sword. De­spite this key change, all of Austen’s plot points re­main in­tact, with her high- con­cept – feisty society girl Elizabeth Bennet re­fuses suit­ors, de­spite the pres­sures from her fam­ily to set­tle down – barely af­fected by the pres­ence of brain- chom­pers.

Con­sid­er­ing the book’s re­garded as a fem­i­nist mas­ter­piece with one of the strong­est cen­tral fe­male char­ac­ters in fic­tion, it’s odd that the film opens on Sam Ri­ley’s love- in­ter­est/ zom­bie- killer Mr Darcy, who’s im­me­di­ately un­dressed and in­spected for wounds, be­fore be­ing ob­jec­ti­fied by the el­derly man con­duct­ing the health check. It’s an early sub­ver­sion of the male gaze, and com­bined with our first gawp at the fe­male leads ( clean­ing weapons and dis­cussing their Shaolin kung fu train­ing) raises ex­pec­ta­tions for some­thing gen­uinely ex­cit­ing: a fully fe­male- fo­cused ac­tion flick.

Sadly, we’re swiftly into the first

It’s hard to know what this film is for

weird tonal shift – and it’s got noth­ing to do with the clash be­tween corset drama and gore flick. The sis­ters tool up in a slow- mo se­quence full of thigh- flesh fetishi­sa­tion that looks like a deleted scene from – whis­per it – Les­bian Vam­pire Killers.

The ac­tion in­dus­try has been steadily mov­ing to­wards im­proved fe­male rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and there’s an early shot here – fea­tur­ing not one but five bad- ass fe­male leads; it’s so cool it’ll give you goose­bumps – that makes you think Zom­bies could be an­other trail­blaz­ing ex­am­ple.

Sadly, it’s a false dawn: the males have more power than the women, and even a fun scrap be­tween Darcy and Lizzy is re­duced to a bodice- rip­ping boob gag that feels too much like Carry On.

With­out that el­e­ment of girl power, it’s hard to know what this film is for. It’s cer­tainly not ghoul power – the zom­bies are weirdly tooth­less, and sur­pris­ingly oc­ca­sional, with the run­time def­i­nitely more fo­cused on Pride

And Prej­u­dice than it is zom­bies. It’s a weird choice. Fans of Austen’s book will be put off by the ti­tle, while hor­ror movie geeks will feel their brain- flesh rot­ting from bore­dom through­out, thanks to long stretches of di­a­logue with­out a sin­gle “Grrr, argh” in earshot.

P& P& Z has two sav­ing graces. Lily James is ma­jes­tic as Lizzy Bennet, while Matt Smith dis­plays the awk­ward charm and comic tim­ing that made the Eleventh Doc­tor so spe­cial. But with Smith a mere sup­port­ing player, and James let down by strange script­ing, even they can’t save

Zom­bies from flatlin­ing.

When first an­nounced, P& P& Z had Natalie Port­man lined- up as Lizzy Bennet, and David O Rus­sell down to di­rect.

Thank­fully his neck was straw­ber­ryflavoured.

An­tiques Road­show got feisty.

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