From the outset Love & friendship is just like every Jane Austen film adaptations. A talkative piece that either delights or bore some audience members, depending on one’s liking. Adapted from the posthumously published Lady Susan, Love & friendship start with so much exposition, new characters and situations at such a fast pace that there’s no time for the material to breathe. That leaves the audience on unsure ground. Are we really going to grasp all the nuances of this complex plot? Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a scheming young widow, seeks refuge at her brother-in-law’s house. There have been rumors about her affair with a married man. While Lady Susan is waiting out the rumors, she plans to find a husband to her teenage daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). It’s no wonder that Frederica is a nervous wreck as Lady Susan treats her in a terrible way, calling her stupid and showing her no love or affection. But Lady Susan’s real aim, is to find herself a husband. She set her sights on young (much younger than her actually) and rich gentleman Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel). But when the suitor that Lady Susan has chosen for her daughter is the buffoon Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), Frederica asks Reginald to intervene. Lady Susan’s American friend, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny) is delighted by her manipulative ways. American director Whit Stillman ‘s great force here is the casting of Beckinsale and Samuel. Beckinsale seems happy to have landed this jewel of a part, but instead of chewing the scenery, she paints Lady Susan with subtle little details. A smile here to show her joy at having fooled everyone, a whispered remark for contempt and a slightly raised voice when Lady Susan is lying. Lady Susan is calculating, yes. But Beckinsale is making sure she’s also likable and fun. Australian actor Xavier Samuel plays Reginald DeCourcy as if it was not acting but something he does everyday. Isn’t that what good actors do? Yes, but it’s Samuel’s casual ease that we find attractive and sexy. But the tour de force comic performance comes from Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin. A undescribable creation. Such a character has never existed in films or in life. He speaks with half uttered, incomprehensible phrases or words, and then he finds it funny and laughs at his own silliness, sometimes with loud guffaws coming out, leaving the people in the room speechless. During a dance, he is so happy to be dancing, he’s jumping up and clapping hands completely out of control. It took some time for Love & friendship to find the right rhythm, but I must say that when it did, the film was quite funny and delightful.
Love & friendship
Based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan