Whether it reigns supreme as one of your all-time favorite novels or you begrudgingly read it for your high school English class, chances are you’ve been immersed in the world of Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.
Published in 1813, the “novel of manners” is centered around Elizabeth Bennet , daughter of a country gentleman, as she navigates dilemmas of romance and morality among Britain’s upper class. Since its publication, the beloved tale has received countless adaptations and parodies — with possibly the most outrageous of them all, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, set to hit the big screen Feb. 5.
It’s a movie that could appeal to both “Austen purists” who are dedicated to the original plot and to younger moviegoers who can’t get enough of gory zombie scenes, said Bella Heathcote (Jane Bennet), who appears alongside Lily James (Elizabeth Bennet), Matt Smith (Mr. Collins) and Douglas Booth (Mr. Bingley) during a press conference call with high school and college students across the nation.
“It’s like Austen, but with a little less nutritional value and more candy on top,” Heathcote joked.
At surface level, the choice to add everyone’s favorite flesh-eating monster to the film was a wise business move. With the recent successes of television shows such as The Walking Dead and movies like 28 Days Later, there’s no time like the present to cash in on the horror fad.
But aside from the inevitable blood and mayhem sure to grace the screen, Smith said the addition of zombies provided the film’s cast with an opportunity to make bold choices.
Having zombies in the movie “lets you reinvent characters that have been played before, much like you would play Hamlet and every actor would give their own spin on it,” Smith said. “You’ve got to bring something new to the table, which I thought everyone did.”
He also credits Burr Steers, the movie’s director, for giving actors the creative freedom to improvise lines during filming.
Steers “allowed an environment and a platform where you could throw things out there that weren’t in scripts,” Smith said, mentioning an off-the-cuff line about muffins. “It was an enjoyable experience for me.”
Despite its highly anticipated status, the movie experienced a series of ups and downs before the idea became a reality. Since the film was announced on Dec. 10, 2009, three directors came and went, and Natalie Portman quit her role as Elizabeth Bennet, although she opted to stay as a producer for the movie. Steers arrived in mid-2013.
The film’s lack of continuity might have scared away some actors, but it didn’t bother James.
“It didn’t worry me that the script had been around for so long,” James said, noting the involvement of high-profile actors and directors. “In fact, it really drew me into the project.”
What makes this film exciting, James said, is how it stays true to the 1813 novel’s main characteristics while introducing modern elements to keep viewers on the edge of their seats. That combination, she said, should make the film enjoyable to all types of viewers.
“It’s a romance and a drama — and throw in every time you’re maybe getting a bit bored a big zombie attack,” James said, “so it really just makes it very exciting and fun and scary.”