When Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) scolds a man for approaching her in a courtyard and threatens to have him whipped, she thinks nothing of it. After her friend and confidante Alicia (Chloë Sevigny) seems shocked, she advises that she actually knows him well; "I would never speak to a stranger like that," she laughs. Slinging sharp words is what the recent widow does well, along with scheming to secure herself a new husband while also trying to find someone suitable for her teenage daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). How better to battle for the important things in life, such as a wealthy partner, being able to live comfortably, and escaping a scandalous reputation?
Yes, all's fair in love, marriage and the war that accompanies the pursuit of both, as this comedy of manners, money and match-making aptly demonstrates. Adapted by writer-director Whit Stillman from Jane Austen's unfinished, letter-based novella Lady Susan (but renamed after one of her other short stories), the fast-paced film is the comedic gem you probably didn't know the 18th century author had in her.
Indeed, Love & Friendship is a sparkling satire that's as insightful as it is amusing, anchored by the kind of protagonist that might not be entirely sympathetic, but is still both relatable and entertaining. When Lady Susan sets her sights on the young and handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), she won't let his meddling relatives derail her future happiness — though Frederica's courtship with the buffoonish Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) might just get in the way. That said, Lady Susan hasn't been labelled "the most accomplished flirt in England" without good reason.
Whether her character is telling off passersby, spouting insults with a smile or choosing to remain oblivious to the response she causes whenever she enters a room, Beckinsale is in career-topping form as Lady Susan, oozing the perfect combination of charm and calculation. While she's surrounded by an excellent cast — Samuel, Bennett and a brief appearance by Stephen Fry are the standouts — there's never any doubting that she's the star of the show.
And yet, though Beckinsale commands attention every moment she's on screen, it's Stillman who proves the film's most important figure. The material isn't just an ideal fit for a filmmaker who has previously found humour in interconnected sections of society in movies like The Last Days of Disco and Damsels in Distress. It's also the feature the lifelong Austen fan was clearly fated to make. At home in the period setting, he takes every opportunity to survey the sumptuous production design, while still furnishing the film with a sense of intimacy, peppering it with hilarious reaction shots, and finding joy in the wordplay that drives the dialogue. In short, it's a delicious blend of Stillman and Austen at their comic best.
Arts & Entertainment
Thursday, May 27 - Monday, May 31