An exquisitely elegant Austen adaptation
Love & Friendship is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella entitled Lady Susan, written in 1794 but not published until 1871. Almost impossibly for a work by Austen it has never been adapted before. After seeing Love & Friendship the viewer will be left with two thoughts, 1) Why on Earth has such a brilliant story not made it to the screen before? and 2) Thank goodness it hadn’t as that version was absolutely perfect! Love & Friendship is an absolute treat of a film and a gem of a must-see.
Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is a widow and notorious flirt. Infamous for her ways of manipulation yet so utterly charming, magnetic and witty that most of society adores her. Seeking refuge after scandalous rumours spread about her private life, about a suspected relationship with married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin), she arrives at her in-laws relying on their forced generosity. Whilst there she must continue her desperate search to find her daughter Federica (Morfydd Clark) a suitable husband and an even better match for herself. Seduction, deception, broken hearts and lots and lots of gossip ensue.
There are so many wonderful things to say about this film. The way the story is told is extraordinarily brilliant. Originally an epistolary novella (a story told as a series of letters) writer-director-producer Whit Stillman turns monologues into dialogue with perfection. The editing is what truly makes this a success – hopping between people, places and things – nothing needless is shown and nothing is needlessly reshown. As opposed to an hours-long epic the period drama is reinvigorated with this 90 minute self-conscious comedic romp. The threads are skillfully interwoven with many outcomes that you may surprise and will definitely amuse. The dialogue is wonderfully written, snappy and lively, serving as a great reminder of just how funny Austen was. The fact the film has an age certification of ‘U’ just goes to show how well-written the script is: never have such brutal takedowns been so politely and eloquently written.
The characterisation is superb with every character, no matter how facetious or self-indulgent, managing to be immensely likeable. Beckinsale as Lady Susan is a revelation – a character who knows nothing nor cares little for either love or friendship yet knows just how to manipulate other’s feelings about both. Lady Susan’s manipulations are extraordinary and so skillful that you can’t help find her likeable and end up rooting for her. She’s nasty and self-centered, others distrust of her and resentment of her status is fully understandable as is their envy of her, yet the viewer is spellbound by her. Some of her best moments are when she is scheming with the American Alicia (Chloë Sevigny) when the conversation becomes a biting satire of late 18th Century aristocracy.
The entire cast are just as brilliant, there are no weak links here, but it is Bennett’s James Martin that almost steals the show. His performance is so earnest and well-meaning as a character who is unable to utter a sentence without creating moments of sheer awkwardness. In a film full of laugh-inducing moments, I don’t think I’ve laughed this often in ages, it is his character who has two of the biggest chuckle/chortle/tear-inducing funny moments, moments which I have been quoting constantly since.
The costumes, sets and visual style are all extraordinary. The entire cast an acting masterclass. A script and storyline that make hilarious an understatement. Easily one of the best films we will see this year (it’s not even June yet). Go see it. Now!