On the face of it, adding putrid, brain-eating zombies to one of the most beloved and intellectually astute comedy of manners in the English language seems like an odd thing to do. On the one side: empire-waisted tea gowns, landed gentry, and a fiercely keen analysis of social strata in the Regency era. On the other: the undead. There have perhaps been odder marriages (the time Quentin Tarantino appeared in an episode of The Golden Girls springs to mind), but not many.
But as any student of Jane Austen knows, her biting social satires are very much about combat, whether it’s Miss Bingley hurling veiled insults at Elizabeth Bennet faster than she can thwack them away or Emma and Mr. Knightley furiously sparring over the former’s spoilt behavior. In 1996, Andrew Davies inserted a scene of Mr. Darcy fencing into his six-part BBC adaptation of Pride and Prejudice, aiming to increase the surly hero’s romantic appeal by demonstrating his prowess with a rapier. In Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, the new adaptation of the 2009 novel by Seth Grahame-Smith, the director Burr Steers goes one further: He makes Darcy one of the most fearsome zombie hunters in all England, amid a “virulent and gruesome plague” that’s wreaking havoc in the country. And Elizabeth isn’t just his sparring partner in a metaphorical sense—she’s an equally deadly warrior who can match him both intellectually and physically, at least when it comes to decapitating the undead.