Seduction and manipulation are at the heart of Whit Stillman’s period drama
Translating written correspondence into a seamless narrative, Love and Friendship fills in the blanks in Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan, leaving much of her words intact as it unfolds between stately homes and Regency fashions.
Having disrupted a friend’s home and marriage, the widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is forced to curtail her stay and depend on the kindness of strangers. While other Austen heroines have the audience on their side, Lady Susan is far less sympathetic: With nothing but her good name and a short list of friends, she seeks to set herself up in style and comfort through less than subtle machinations. Her primary scheme involves marrying her daughter to Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a perpetually perplexed gentleman of means who is unaware of the existence of peas (How jolly…tiny green balls!), while she herself curries the favor of the handsome and empathetic Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel).
While her daughter laments her prospective union with her “unintended,” as it is “for one’s whole life,” Lady Susan knows better, sardonically replying, “well, not in my experience.”
With a surprisingly modern heroine going counter to what was socially acceptable at the time, Love and Friendship takes a stab at being relatable, but falls short due to anachronisms foreign to a contemporary audience. Writer-director Whit Stillman makes a little go a long way, but going the full authentic route might have been a better choice. Beckinsale plays her protagonist with subtle savoir faire, maintaining social grace while looking out for number one. It is Bennett, however, who steals the show, a complete buffoon yet nonetheless eminently likeable.
The main cast is brilliantly reinforced by a bevy of notable cameos, from Stephen Fry as Mr. Johnson – on screen far too briefly – to James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave as DeCourcy’s supportive parents.
Starts Dec 29, Filmcasino