Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica — and herself too, naturally.
Your thoughts on ‘Love & Friendship’ are likely to depend on your penchant for period pieces, and for Jane Austen works in particular. This is my way of saying ‘Love & Friendship’ is an impeccably crafted romantic comedy that just didn’t really click with me in any significant way. The film is directed by Whit Stillman, adapted from a Jane Austen novella ‘Lady Susan’, and it takes place across a number of estates in England in the late 1700s. Clocking in at around 90 minutes, the film does go by at a fair pace and the light, witty script means I was never bored, but it never fully captivated me either.
The story focuses on the ‘Lady Susan’ of the novella’s title, in this case played with glee by an excellent Kate Beckinsale. Lady Susan is recently widowed and she moves in with her in-laws as rumours start to circulate about her private life amongst the various families and upper class estates. The film follows her as she seeks out a new husband for herself and for her daughter, all the whilst upsetting a variety of characters along the way. This leads us through a vast ensemble cast who are uniformly terrific, from the leading roles to those in smaller parts, such as Stephen Fry who is perfectly cast in a role requiring only a couple of scenes. It’s difficult to call a standout but Tom Bennett is particularly excellent as Sir James Martin, an imbecilic potential suitor who manages to charm nonetheless. One of the joys of the film is in Stillman’s ability to get the best out of his extensive cast, and mainly in his ability to get under the surface of the characters and the façade they put on to keep up an upper class appearance. His stylistic choices pretty much all work, from his way of introducing each of the estates and characters, to the emphasis on fun and comedy rather than the more dramatic elements of the text.
In Stillman’s hands, Lady Susan is a delicious schemer, cutting and ignorant, but terrific to watch and it’s often incredibly funny watching the other characters struggling to get a handle on her motives and behaviour. Stillman seems to really get this stiff upper class society and whilst his characters may not understand it, the way the film’s narrative deconstructs their behaviour and attitudes is often hilarious to watch. My issues with ‘Love & Friendship’ lie not in its quality or its execution, but merely in its premise and setting, and that’s particularly difficult to analyse effectively! It’s easy to write a review of a movie I love or hate, but to write a review of a film that is almost entirely successful yet one that I wasn’t fully taken by is altogether more difficult. In essence, ‘Love & Friendship’ is a superbly made movie that a lot of people are going to love, but whilst there were elements I really liked, this isn’t a genre I’m fond off and I found it difficult to move past that, sadly.
Directed By: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards and Jenn Murray