Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Vs Bridget Jones Diary — Which film adaptation wins?

Pride and Prejudice and Zombies Vs Bridget Jones Diary Which film adaptation wins

Words: Jo Elliott

It is a truth universally acknowledged that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice is a story that has been retold many, many, times. Elizabeth Bennet’s story is one that generations of people are familiar with, be it through the original novel, one of its movie adaptations or one of the many retellings that the story has inspired.

However, as with adaptations of the original Pride and Prejudice novel, not all retellings are created equal. For my purposes, I will be comparing two of the modern film retellings of Pride and Prejudice. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, a 2016 film starring Lily James and Bridget Jones’ Diary, a 2001 romantic comedy staple.

Same story, different approach

Both films have the same story at their heart, but they take very different approaches to adapt it. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies is more of a straight retelling of Pride and Prejudice, only with zombies added. Bridget Jones’ Diary takes the essence of the Pride and Prejudice story reworking it for a modern audience.

For me, I preferred the approach that Bridget Jones’ Diary takes to adapting the Jane Austen classic. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies sticks within the early 19th century of the setting and follows the plot of the original to the letter. The only real difference being the addition of zombies. Bridget Jones’ Diary on the other hand, whilst it does follow the general framework of Austen’s story (woman meets rich man, they both despise each other and then eventually develop feelings), puts a more modern twist on Austen’s story. It doesn’t feel like it has transposed Jane Austen’s story into a different setting. Rather it feels like it has taken the bones of Austen’s story and created something new.

I’m rather averse to Zombies

I will admit that Bridget Jones’ Diary is more my kind of film anyway. I’ve never been known to be a massive fan of zombie films as romantic comedies are far more up my street. But for me, Bridget Jones’ Diary does more of what a retelling should do. Retellings of stories, whilst Yes, will obviously contain themes and plot points from the original text, should endeavour to do something new with that. Pride and Prejudice and Zombies does little to actually change and develop the story of Lizzie Bennet.

The themes of Jane Austen

Bridget Jones’ Diary however, takes the issues explored in Jane Austen’s original novel and makes them accessible to a modern audience. Lizzie Bennet lives in a far different society than Bridget Jones, and her family needs her to marry in order to make sure she is taken care of as women were not able to inherit property or money at that time.

Bridget on the other hand, whilst she does feel pressure to settle down, this pressure comes from the fact that marriage is a societal norm and she is over the age at which society expects women to settle down. She does not have to get married, she has her own flat, her own job and is self-sufficient. Marriage is not an economic proposition for her, in the way that is for the Bennet family in Pride and Prejudice and Zombies (and the original Jane Austen story).

The chemistry between the Darcy character and the Lizzie character is also paramount when it comes to Pride and Prejudice retellings. And I feel like Bridget Jones has the upper hand over PP&Z when it comes to this. Colin Firth is a far more charismatic actor than Sam Riley and manages to inject some personality into Darcy where Riley just feels stiff. Lily James does a great job as Elizabeth Bennet but it is hard to connect to their story when the actor playing opposite her doesn’t feel convincing. In contrast, both Colin Firth and Renee Zellweger put in convincing performances so it is easier to root for their romance because it feels more believable.

The representation of feminism

Both films are somewhat problematic in their representation of feminism.

PP&Z follows the old trope of giving a woman a sword and that somehow making the story more feminist because “Look the girl can fight too!” Yes, it is important to show that women can be strong and powerful but by emphasizing traits which are considered masculine, it implies that women have to be masculine to be considered powerful.

No one is ever going to hold Bridget Jones up as a paragon of feminism either. The entire basis of the plot for Bridget Jones is that constant search for “the one.”

Whilst there is nothing inherently wrong with feeling lonely and trying to find someone to spend your life with, the narrative focus of Bridget Jones is all about her romantic entanglements. Other aspects of her life like her career and friendships are largely considered secondary to those. That’s not to say there isn’t merit to Bridget Jones. It does highlight many pressures that women face: body image issues, ageing, the pressure to marry amongst others. But her story, as with many 90s and early 00’s media is very much a product of its time, and wouldn’t necessarily meet today’s standard for feminism.

Even with its problematic elements, I would still say I prefer Bridget Jones’ Diary to Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. As a retelling, I think it’s simply more creative. Bridget Jones isn’t a carbon copy of Lizzie Bennet, just transplanted into the 1990s. She’s not the sharp-witted, confident, slightly abrasive Lizzie Bennet. She’s awkward and clumsy, she says exactly what’s on her mind even if it’s not appropriate. In short, she’s a bit of a mess and struggling to get her life together.

Bridget Jones’ Diary takes the story of Pride and Prejudice and remakes it for a modern audience: which is exactly what a retelling is supposed to do. PP&Z is successful in merging Pride and Prejudice with a genre that wouldn’t from the outside be a good fit, but makes Jane Austen more accessible to a wider range of people.

Retellings are very subjective. It’s up to each individual writer to decide how they want to reimagine a particular story. And, as with PP&Z and Bridget Jones, they can take very different approaches. Neither approach is inherently wrong. However I have to wonder, if you are going to take a well-known story and only add one new element, what is the point? There is so much room to be creative that it’s a shame if writers don’t use that opportunity to reshape these classic stories in a new way for a modern audience.

Originally published at https://capechameleon.co.za on March 18, 2020.

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Jo Elliott

Jo Elliott

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