Love & Friendship Review

The Plot

The unashamedly ruthless and flirtatious Lady Susan Vernon takes up temporary residence at her in-laws’ quiet country estate. While taking advantage of her dismayed relations, she relentlessly schemes toward finding an advantageous match for herself and her unfortunate daughter Frederica

The Good

Love & Friendship is based on Jane Austen’s unfinished novella Lady Susan. However, those anticipating a sweet natured tale of brooding but kind hearted romance may find themselves surprised but thoroughly amused by this adaptation of one of the iconic period drama author’s lesser known works.

Lady Susan’s joyously selfish and unapologetically mean spirited personality immediately distinguishes the film from all other Austen adaptations, instantly injecting a bitterly funny tone that feels strangely modern.  Kate Beckinsale trades well upon her flawless looks and cut glass vocal charms to deliver a loveably loathsome performance.

There’s an undeniable guilty pleasure for audiences in watching her casually manipulate and abuse the assorted kind souls and blithering idiots she is surrounded by in polite Edwardian society. The combined skill of Austen’ writing, Beckinsale’s performance and Whit Stillman’s careful direction conspire to ensure that Lady Susan remains obnoxious but somehow likeable.

Though Beckinsale’s Lady Susan may shamelessly abuse her meek daughter and the assorted proud or foolish aristocracy around her, she rarely has a truly despicable impact on others. This enables audiences to regard her selfish determination with some form of admiration rather than abhorrence.

Newcomer Tom Bennett steals every moment he’s on screen with a performance that perfectly captures the true joy of blithering idiocy. Listening to his wealthy simpleton Sir James Martin assess the merits of the ‘12 commandments’ or extol the virtue of peas is a relentless delight.

A host of familiar faces including Chloe Sevginy, Stephen Fry and James Fleet also round out a well-chosen supporting cast that helps facilitate the film’s saucy comedic approach to the source material. Armed with a skilful ensemble capable of handling the quick spoken verbal  pacing, director Whit Stillman is able to fully realise the innately energetic charms of Austen’s most sharp tongued wit.

The Bad

Those adamantly opposed to enjoying Austen’s corset clad dramatics may still be put off, even with the additional emphasis on comedy and a captivating anti-heroine. Love and Friendship moves at a leisurely pace and offers a relatively simple plot lacking in any actual elements of danger or drama. Ultimately the playfully mean spirited sense of humour may not quite go far enough for anyone suffering from a serious Austen aversion.

The Ugly Truth

Love and Friendship sparkles with a deliciously sharped tongued wit that adds a new dimension of black comedy to the familiar period drama charms of Jane Austen. Scene stealing turns from Kate Beckinsale and newcomer Tom Bennett are particular highlights along a generally amusing ride.

Review By Russell Nelson

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