Love & Friendship - Review
Review by Rob Carnevale
IT’S refreshing to find a Jane Austen adaptation that’s as witty and subversive as Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship.
Inspired by the novella Lady Susan, believed to have been written in the mid 1790s when it is also set, the film boasts some wonderfully witty word-play, strong characterisation and delightful performances – not least from leading lady Kate Beckinsale.
Beckinsale plays young widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who decides to visits the estate of her in-laws to escape from the colourful rumours about her dalliances circulating through polite society.
Ever the flirt, Lady Susan uses her time there to secure a husband for herself as well as a future for her eligible but reluctant daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). But in doing so, she attracts the simultaneous attentions of the young, handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the rich and silly Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) and the divinely handsome, but married, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain).
Love & Friendship may trade on the familiar Austen elements – from romance against the odds to women ahead of their time – but rather than feeling constrained by the trappings of more traditional costume dramas, this feels fresh and even inventive.
Beckinsale’s central figure, for instance, may be bestowed with a wickedly barbed tongue and a free-spirit not commonly associated with women of her era, but she isn’t interested in being as likeable as other Austen heroines. Indeed, there are times when her manipulations and put-downs feel plain cruel. And the actress plays this perfectly.
Samuel, on the other hand, is one of the more bland Austen heroes – good-looking, yes, but earnest too. Yet while this may sound like a criticism, it’s well conveyed by the actor.
Rather, it’s Bennett who provides the most interesting male character – his idiotic Sir James a scene-stealing delight. At first, he’s put forward as the sort of good-looking but bumbling suitor that Colin Firth or Hugh Grant could play in their sleep, only to be revealed as an even more inept creation – a man whose lack of social grace extends to awkward conversations about peas at the dinner table. Such moments are laugh out loud funny and Bennett has created something really special.
Whitman’s film deserves further credit for the way in which it keeps things moving – for while wordy and devoid of any show-stopping set pieces (or even a wet white shirt moment), the lyrical dexterity with which he invests proceedings means you have to pay attention to keep up with Lady Susan’s various machinations.
As a result, the film feels fleet-footed and nimble, clocking in at a spritely 98 minutes, none of which feels wasted.
Love & Friendship is therefore a really pleasant surprise – a romp of a period romance that affords Stillman one of his best films in a while and Beckinsale and Bennett career-best performances.
Running time: 92mins
UK Release Date: May 27, 2016