It is a truth, universally acknowledged, that each generation receives its own cinematic interpretation of Jane Austen’s most famous love story. So, naturally, when our headstrong Elizabeth Bennet and her gaggle of sisters next appear on screen, they’ll not only be hunting husbands, but fending off hordes of the undead. Based on Seth Grahame-Smith’s best-selling mash-up novel, Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (out Feb. 5) recounts the unlikely romance between Lizzy (Lily James) and the haughty Mr. Darcy (Sam Riley), but the courtship takes place in a 19th-century English countryside where the “sorry stricken”—as the zombies are called in the book—have been roaming for more than 70 years, victims of a mysterious plague.
Director Burr Steers (Igby Goes Down) took over after a number of previously attached filmmakers (including David O. Russell, who had Natalie Portman slated to star) had moved on, and he chose to emphasize Austen over B-movie horror, advising his cast (which includes Game of Thrones stars Charles Dance as the kindly family patriarch and Lena Headey as a famed eye-patch-sporting warrior) not to mine the material for laughs. “The idea was that it was Pride and Prejudice set in this alternate world and then for everyone to play it straight,” Steers explains. “The movie’s big wink is that there is no big wink.” That news may come as a shock to fans of the over-the-top Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, the last Grahame-Smith book to get a big-screen adaptation. So brace yourselves, James says. “It’s definitely not camp.”
It also means those corseted Bennet girls finally get to see some real action. “Rather than knitting and crocheting, they’re polishing muskets,” says James (Cinderella). And Lizzy, she says, is unlike any leading lady she’s ever played: “She’s the most badass zombie slayer there is.” Mr. Bennet would be so proud.