Mr. Darcy is one of the quintessential Byronic heroes. First introduced to the world in Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, Darcy represents both qualities named in the book's title, with his noble blood and air of apparently snobbery. Outwardly surly, frustrating to deal with, but hiding a secret heart of passion, Darcy has been an inspiration - direct or indirect - for countless love interests in both books and films. And in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, he has an extra quirk: his mastery of the art of zombie-slaying.
In this new take on the familiar tale, Darcy is played by Sam Riley (On the Road) and is usually accompanied by his good friend Mr. Bingley (Douglas Booth). The two of them are polar opposites: Bingley is cheerful, vivacious, openly romantic and has a tendency to speak his mind. He's also pretty hopeless at battling the zombie scourge, which is why he's fortunate to have zombie-killing expert Darcy at his side and adept fighter Jane Bennet as his love interest.
Screen Rant was fortunate enough to speak to the cast on the set of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies last year, so we asked Riley and Booth about how Darcy and Bingley fit into a post-zombie world, and what that world is like.
Fitzwilliam Darcy (Sam Riley)
"The British like to pretend things aren't happening around them," is Sam Riley's explanation for how class divisions and elaborate parties can still exist in an eighteenth century Britain under constant threat from undead, flesh-eating monsters. "There’s this horror going on that people have become accustomed to." The haughty Mr. Darcy is particularly and regretfully accustomed to that horror, as he was forced to kill his own father after he became infected by the zombie virus. The experience left young Darcy "resolute in his hatred" of zombies, whom Riley describes as being the lowest-of-the-lower-classes in British society.
The Bennet sisters told us about the thrills of having Regency era fashion designed to conceal swords, daggers and other weapons, and to make it easier for them to launch into a fight, and Darcy's battle gear also eschews some historical accuracy in favor of looking cool. "I have a really long, leather coat... at the beginning he comes into the room, and everyone’s terrified of him, because he’s such a militant bastard." Describing this look as "Gestapo-Darcy," Riley explains that there's a reason we've never seen a version of the character in a leather duster before: "Leather wasn’t particularly common, leather dusters, but... we’re taking a few stylistic liberties."
Of course, Darcy's main role in the original novel is as a foil and romantic interest for protagonist Elizabeth Bennet, played in this version by Lily James, who isn't at all afraid to stand up to him in verbal sparring matches. In Pride and Pride and Zombies Darcy finds himself uncontrollably attracted to Liz not only because of her ability to trade barbs with him, but also due to her fighting prowess. "He doesn’t want to like Liz Bennet, but she stirs something," Riley explains. "And when I see how she’s kicking ass, it does something to Darcy’s insides."
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is an attention-grabbing title by its very nature, and Riley admits that he gave up trying to explain the concept to his grandmother and began just telling people that he was filming Pride and Prejudice, to avoid the inevitable array of questions. Though many Austen fans accept the BBC miniseries as the definitive screen version of the original story, Riley argues that this project brings the tale to a new generation, while also adding enough of a twist to make it worthwhile: "I don’t think anyone wants to see another Pride and Prejudice, but this way I get to play Darcy and, at the same time, fulfil my other ambitions of being an action hero."
The really important matter, however, is whether Colin Firth's Mr. Darcy would be able to take Riley's Mr. Darcy in a fight. "He wouldn’t stand a chance," the actor boasts confidently. "He didn’t train in Japan, he doesn’t have three guns in his horse holster. Hand-to-hand, I’d win."
"But against Liz Bennet, I lost," he admits. "She kicks my arse."
Charles Bingley (Douglas Booth)
"My character isn’t the best fighter," Douglas Booth reveals. "The good thing is, my future wife is f---ing great, and so is my best mate Darcy, so they keep me protected." Mr. Bingley, he says, tends to be more of a bystander when the undead come pouring in, describing himself as "quite useless" in such a situation. "I don’t get to kill too many zombies. I often get to look at people killing zombies and be quite impressed."
Booth, whose recent films include sci-fi Jupiter Ascending and biblical epic Noah, says that the British upper classes of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies respond to the apocalypse with the same attitude that they take to everything else: a stiff upper lip and an understanding that afternoon tea will not be disrupted. "They’re trying to maintain their way of life, all their mannerisms, all their pomp, they’re trying to cling to that still."
The setting of the interview reflects this aspect of the film. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies has been filming a variety of scenes on the grounds of Basing House, an important landmark of English history that once played host to visits from Tudor royalty, and was eventually reduced to ruin during Civil War sieges. Basing House's famous Great Barn has been transformed into the setting for a sophisticated ball, and subsequently turned into a nightmare of dead bodies and overturned tables during a battle with the 'Manky Dreadfuls'.
There's something inherently humorous about the clash of pompous British nobility with one of the horror genre's most hard-working monsters, which is why Pride and Prejudice and Zombies avoids broadly winking at the camera, according to Booth. His impressions of the film reflect what we heard from other cast members: that the comedy arises organically from the absurdity of the situation. "Imagine Pride and Prejudice, just set amongst a zombie apocalypse," Booth instructs. "How f---ing weird and crazy would that be?"
Not only does the addition of zombies add a radical new flavor to a familiar story, the setting of a stable upper class British society also changes up the familiar zombie narrative. "Often zombie films are like, ‘run away, run away,' or one protagonist who’s got to get somewhere," says Booth. "There’s always running to or running from, whereas this is how people are living." Bingley, Darcy, the Bennets and the other key characters of the story have obviously led somewhat more exciting lives than in the original novel, but the threat of zombie attack isn't new to them; they've learned how to cope with it.
"That’s what I find engaging," Booth tells us. "Seeing how, after 70 years of this plague, people are getting on."
Next: Meet the Bennet Sisters
Pride and Prejudice and Zombies arrives in theaters on February 5th, 2016.