LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
In the opulent drawing rooms of eighteenth-century English society, the deliciously scheming and manipulative Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is aided and abetted by her loyal friend Alicia Johnson (Chlo‘ Sevigny). Lady Susan is on a mission to find a husband for herself and her long-suffering young daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). But two young men, the handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) and wealthy Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), severely complicate the plans.
Review by Louise Keller:
Love, money and convenience engage in a merry dance, in this engaging comedy of manners adapted from Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan, in which its drawing room of characters feel as though they have descended from their gilt-framed portraits hanging on the wall of their stately manors. Bringing them to life is Whit Stillman, whose tone and screenplay adaptation perfectly captures the mood of the times. The film also reunites Stillman with his two leading ladies from The Last Days of Disco (1998) and from whom he draws wonderful performances.
Manipulation is as natural to Austen's protagonist Lady Susan as the cool English air she breathes. In one of her best career performances, Kate Beckinsale is the epitome of wide-eyed charm and callous scheming as the none too grieving widow Lady Susan, who sets the groundwork to secure the future for herself and her troubled, timid daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Chlo‘ Sevigny effectively plays Lady Susan's friend and confidante Alicia from Connecticut, who despairs that her well-to-do older husband (Stephen Fry with too little screen time) is "too old to be made governable and too young to die".
Status and prospects are unscrupulously mined through the statuesque hallways amid bustles, butlers, candelabras and manicured gardens as desirable suitors are lured and toyed with, as a cat toys with a lizard. The horses and carriages come and go. The key object of Lady Susan's attention is the younger, handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel, excellent) but the unexpected arrival of her daughter Frederica puts a spanner in the works, offering further challenges and need for shrewd action. Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, the well-to-do, "silly nincompoop" who wants to marry Frederica is a welcome diversion: his awkward, often inappropriate monologues are as funny as his deportment.
As jealousies, outrage, resentments and concerns play out, the exemplary cast cast the dye of authenticity. There's plenty of fun to be had observing the mind-games as the manipulative Lady Susan hones in for the kill. I'm rather sorry the filmmakers opted for the forgettable title of Love & Friendship: Lady Susan would have been far more apt and effective. Besides, there was little love or friendship on display - although maybe that was Whitman's point.
Review by Andrew L. Urban:
Whit Stillman doesn't go far enough, not for me anyway, with his stylised satire based on Jane Austen's satirical and episodic novella about a right bitch of a scheming, lying, selfish woman, Lady Susan Vernon - played to the death by a sparkling Kate Beckinsale. Lady Susan, the widowed young mother of Frederica (Morfydd Clark), is a gale force disruptive when she invades her sister in law's happy home (Emma Greenwell) where the Lady S finds and conquers the heart of her somewhat younger brother in law Reginald (Xavier Samuel), to the horror of his family. But her desperate ambitions are greater: she must find a wealthy husband, plus one for her daughter.
Oh I don't mean Stillman doesn't go far enough with the satire, I mean he doesn't go far enough with the stylish flourishes which from the start announce his intentions to flirt with farcical elements. These range from on screen character introductions and location labels to some words being re-printed on screen from correspondence or verse ... appropriate enough for a work based on letters. More of that sort of thing would have been welcome.
The impeccably polite language of 18th century society is an effective cloak for some barbaric emotional acts, and Stillman invokes Austen's own wordsmithery to fill in some gaps. And of course, he takes the most important artistic decisions when casting the film. Each of the characters come to life in glorious human colour in the hands of a bunch of actors who have immersed themselves in the story and their parts.
At first, the film is demanding of us, as it sticks to the Austen, and for all the introductions (or perhaps because of them) we are somewhat confused as we try to slot everyone in their proper mansion. The dialogue flows fast, and it is wittily barbed, making for a tone of well mannered dislike between several characters, all prompted by Lady Susan's pretty but dangerous head.
Email this article
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (PG)
CAST: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Chlo‘ Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Tom Bennett, Morfydd Clark, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Jenn Murray
PRODUCER: Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, Whit Stillman
DIRECTOR: Whit Stillman
SCRIPT: Whit Stillman (novella by Jane Austen)
CINEMATOGRAPHER: Richard Van Oosterhout
EDITOR: Sophie Corra
MUSIC: Benamin Esdraffo
PRODUCTION DESIGN: Anna Rackard
RUNNING TIME: 92 minutes
AUSTRALIAN DISTRIBUTOR: Transmission
AUSTRALIAN RELEASE: July 21, 2016