Adding zombies to Austen’s classic

Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy

Sam Riley as Mr. Darcy

Pride and Prejudice, the classic novel by Jane Austen published in 1813 has frequently been adapted in different media. The first one came out in 1940, starring Laurence Olivier and Greer Garson; followed by several TV series, the most popular of which was that of BBC in 1995 starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle); and believe it or not, even on YouTube via The Lizzie Bennet Diaries.

In terms of literature, it has also inspired a number of reinterpretations, one of which is Pride and Prejudice and Zombies by Seth Grahame-Smith, published in April 2009. Just a few days after its publication, the book was already third on New York Times bestseller list.

In writing this zombie novel, Grahame-Smith said he “didn’t want to mess with Jane Austen’s overall structure, because it’s a masterpiece.” Crediting Austen as co-author, he remained faithful to the depiction of the characters. Elizabeth Bennet is the ever-rational sister of Jane, Mary, Kitty, and Lydia, who speaks the truth from her heart. Mr. Darcy is the moneyed and arrogant man who comes into town and affects Elizabeth in a way that no man has ever done before.

But the big difference in Grahame-Smith’s story is that these two characters have a lot more to worry about than their verbal disputes. A mysterious plague has fallen upon the village of Meryton and the dead are returning to life. Worse, they’re on the hunt for human flesh. Now it’s up to the “sharp-tongued, sharp-daggered, and fiercely independent heroine” and the “pompous and privileged (zombie) slayer” to unite on the blood-soaked battlefield and rid their land of the zombie menace. And while at it, would they dare acknowledge their feelings for each other?

Bella Heathcotte and Lily James as sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet

Bella Heathcotte and Lily James as sisters Jane and Elizabeth Bennet

As early as February 2009, there were already talks of turning this into a blockbuster film. Natalie Portman was originally cast in the lead role, but she decided to be a co-producer instead. In 2013, Lily James got on board as Elizabeth. She admitted to have been instantly fascinated with the “really brilliant and funny” script. “Actually, within the first opening sequence where Darcy sort of gallops up on the horse and gets stripped down and all that stuff,” she elaborated.

Sam Riley, who plays Mr. Darcy, revealed that they were “not given the luxury of three months” to train for the action scenes, but their training had been intensive. “We’ve had to do it all quickly. It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Directed by Burr Steers (17 Again, Charlie St. Cloud), and distributed locally by Viva International Pictures and MVP Entertainment, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies opens today, the same date of its theatrical release in the United States.


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