Love and Friendship is the deceptive title of writer director Whit Stillman’s delightfully acerbic adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan.
Anchored by a sensational performance from the delectable Kate Beckinsale, Love and Friendship is a delightfully witty and acidic take on 18th century drawing room comedies.
Kate plays the seductive, razor-tongued home wrecker Lady Susan Vernon who, after becoming widowed, seeks a suitably wealthy husband to ensure her the lifestyle to which she has become accustomed. When her dalliance with square-jawed Mr Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin) earns the ire of Mrs Mainwaring, Lady Susan sets her sights on her handsome young brother-in-law (Xavier Samuel). Her plan also involves finding a suitor for her shy and more morally upright daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark).
Delivering delicious barbs at anyone who interferes with her scheme, Lady Susan is a riot. In her portrayal of the scheming socialite, Kate Beckinsale superbly balances despicable manipulation with an undeniable allure in a way that never tips over into caricature. She’s joined in her machinations by social climbing American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) who plays a battle of wits with her husband (an amusingly pompous if underused Steven Fry) who keeps threatening her with the ultimate punishment, a one-way ticket back to Connecticut.
Almost stealing the film, though, is Tom Bennett as Frederica’s bumbling goofball fiancé sir James Martin. His mix of childlike enthusiasm, astonishing naïveté and social awkwardness is as funny as anything in cinema this year.
Stillman fashions an attractive if unrealistically clean 19th century world of stately manor houses and ostentatious outfits. While nice to look at, the film is mostly shot in drawing rooms and salons giving it the feel of a filmed play.
Although full of wonderful mordant humour this film does have some structural issues. The story makes huge leaps in time so with little explanation so characters’ circumstances suddenly and confusingly change. Also, with the story spread across a large cast of characters – some of whom look very similar – it’s occasionally hard to know who we’re looking at.
Some narrative confusion aside, Love and Friendship is a wonderfully clever and witty excursion into the sordid lives of some very entertaining characters.
Nick’s rating: ***1/2.
Genre: Comedy/ drama/ period piece.
Director(s): Whit Stillman.
Release date: 21st July 2016.
Running time: 92 mins.
Reviewer: Nick Gardener can be heard on “Built For Speed” every Friday night from 8-10pm right here on 88.3 Southern FM. Nick can also be heard on “The Good, The Bad, The Ugly Film Show” podcast. http://subcultureentertainment.com/2014/02/the-good-the-bad-the-ugly-film-show
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