Love and Friendship is an adaptation of a little known Jane Austen novella called Lady Susan. In contrast to other Austen novels which have been adapted for the screen many times, Lady Susan has hardly been touched. A reason for this might be because the heroine is a manipulative adulteress, rare and quite risque for a film set in the 1790s. Love and Friendship is not afraid to stray from the usual style of Austen adaptations that centre around the romances in the stories and the effect is a refreshing take on a widely covered author and period.
The central character is middle-aged widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) who amidst rumours of scandal comes to stay at her brother in law Charles’s estate. Whilst there she decides to set about securing a husband for herself and her daughter Frederica. Her manipulative schemes create much hilarity for viewers as other characters fall foul of her plans. She uses her charm, beauty, intelligence, and connections to make her way in society with largely successful results. She brushes rumours of scandals aside and quickly convinces people she has merely had the misfortune of being talked about by people unfamiliar with her situation.
Love and Friendship is full of hilarious performances. The stand out comedy performance comes from Tom Bennett as Frederica’s intended James Martin. He is extremely rich and extremely stupid and provides entertainment whenever he is on screen. Due to his high ranking in society, his comments are rarely ridiculed and therefore he feels at ease spouting whatever nonsense enters his head, which he often does. Kate Beckinsale’s comedy is more subtle and comes largely from her cunning and manipulative antics which sees a number of men caught in her schemes, unable to believe that they are being played by a superior being.
Love and Friendship is a refreshing take on Austen’s work, which is normally highly romanticised. Romance is not idealised in Love and Friendship. Lady Susan does not fall head over heels in love for an eligible bachelor, she considers all the options of potential husbands available to her and plays her cards to secure her financial future as well as securing a lover in the process. She is a manipulative adulteress but her wit and intelligence still leave you rooting for her.
Dir: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny
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