Costume wardrobe crush: Pride and Prejudice and Zombies

I don’t go to the cinema very much anymore, it seems like such a high price for a ticket to watch a film which might be good (or not). I only ever venture to the big screens for a film that really catches my attention and I just have to see with friends. Otherwise, I wait till I’ve read the reviews and decide if I want to get the DVD when it comes out. This year, my one ‘must brave the crowds to see’ film was Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and I couldn’t be more delighted.

All promotional photos are copyright of Lionsgate Entertainment.

Almost everyone will already be familiar with the original Pride and Prejudice classic novel written by Jane Austen in 1813. The film itself is based on novel of the same name by Seth Grahame-Smith, a mash up of Jane Austen’s original classic with a change in the issues facing society: namely, zombies or so named ‘unmentionables’ or ‘the stricken’ in the book itself. To give you a background if you aren’t familiar with the premise, both books follow the Bennet family whose 5 daughters (with the focus on the two eldest, Jane and Elizabeth who is also fondly called Eliza by best friend Charlotte and sister Jane) face upturned noses from society for various reasons. In Grahame-Smith’s version, the Bennet sisters are looked down on for having earned their martial arts (known as Chinese kung fu) from Master Liu at the Shaolin temple in China rather than Japan like all other warriors in their time.

The film has already received positive reviews (see here for The Guardian’s review and here from Nouse) and although there appears to be mixed reception, seems to be a fan favourite for those focusing on Austen’s romantic notions whereas horror fans aren’t happy with the fact that the representation of zombies aren’t at all realistic or believable for their higher reasoning and speech.

For one as a fan of the original classic, I was very pleased with how the film turned out. While I enjoyed the original Austen novel, it was written in 1813 which makes the language quite difficult to get your head around and makes for a heavy read. The introduction of Grahame-Smith’s zombie gives it an interesting slant to the storyline and brings some humour to the scenes (like Charlotte grabbing autumn leaves from the floor and stuffing them in her mouth from excitement). One article described Grahame-Smith as having lifted several chunks of Austen’s original text (which he states she is the co-author of the book) and changes the book to include zombie references and storyline. I have to admit that I cheated and watched the film first to determine if the book was going to be any good. The film exceeded my expectations, but I’m not sure if that’s because I went in not knowing what to expect, or if the film was just that good. I’m now almost 200 pages into the book and I can see that a lot of Grahame-Smith’s novel has been adapted for the film and can see that it has been changed for the better.

Lily James makes for very convincing Elizabeth Bennet with her strong, warrior personality which is in strong contrast to Jennifer Ehle’s more demure Eliza in the original 1995 BBC miniseries. In the beginning, I wasn’t too convinced by Sam Riley’s rendition of Mr Darcy, although it’s also likely that Colin Firth set the bar quite high in the BBC version and I’ve found it hard, to date, for any other actor to measure up. Not that Grahame-Smith’s novel is hard to read, but I’ve found having seen the film the adaptions or lack of particular scenes from the book made for more action packed ‘zom-rom-com’ film.

One thing as a dressmaker, I was enamoured with the costume design the characters wore. Although not much was written about the style of dress or what the characters wore, both the BBC miniseries and the film keep to Regency era costume with women wearing empire waist dresses and men with breeches, waistcoats, cravats and tailcoat jackets. Julian Day did a great job with the costumes to allow the characters the freedom to fight zombie-infested society.

The dresses were modified with dresses kept modest with a front panel to skirt, although once the ladies started doing scissor kicks or roundhouse kicks, you could see that the front panel really just overlapped the side skirts and are held together by the stitching on the empire waistband. This meant that the Bennet sisters weren’t restricted by the floor length skirt (try walking with bigger strides in a maxi dress or skirt and you’ll see what I mean, it’s not easy) when it came to fighting the undead.

Mr Darcy wears a leather jacket (to give him a more dangerous air, perhaps? Although I’m not sure if leather trenchcoats were the style then) in the opening scene of the film. Coats normally have a slit in the back to allow for flow with movement, so it doesn’t restrict you when walking. The ankle length leather jacket in the film however can be seen to have various panels to it, most likely to allow for freedom of movement when fighting. The navy blue trench coat Elizabeth is seen wearing in various scenes in the film (including the final fight scene) is also fashionable yet practical. The coat is cropped in the front and keeps its floor-length tails at the back. When worn with dresses, it doesn’t restrict movement the panels to the dress designs but when worn with pantaloons doesn’t restrict her at all when riding, running, fighting or kicking unmentionables. After Lady Catherine de Bourgh’s visit to Longbourn, the Bennet’s residence, Elizabeth is also seen wearing this coat when she rides with Jane to find Mr Darcy who wrote her to let her know he’s fighting on the frontlines in London.

I’ve always has a soft spot for the romantic notions of floor length gowns, but Day’s costume design for the film has planted some seeds in my head. I’m going to have to look into this further to see if I can come up with some similar designs which keeps a woman’s modesty with a floor length hem, but to have one that doesn’t restrict movement would be something I think all women would be very happy with. Stay tuned!

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