Love & Friendship – Film Review by Frank L.
Directed by Whit Stillman
Writers: Jane Austen (based on her novella “Lady Susan”), Whit Stillman
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Whit Stillman has adapted Jane Austen’s posthumously published novella “Lady Susan” to create this comic drama. The plot is centred on the machinations of the recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) who finds herself in straitened circumstances. She needs a rich, young, handsome husband. She also has a daughter Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark) of just about marriageable age who if she does what she is told by her mother could be useful in Lady Susan’s schemes. The action takes place primarily in three large English country houses: Langford, Parklands and Churchill and a town house in Edward Street in London. Stillman shot the film in Dublin and its environs so the houses which feature are Carton, Howth Castle and Newbridge House while North Great George’s Street and the Royal Hospital Kilmainham are combined to create Edward Street in London. Stillman displays these architectural gems in all their glories.
However Lady Susan’s amorality as she pursues her prey with her American confidante Alicia Lawson (Chloe Sevigny) is the driving force behind this Wildean comedy of manners. The possible eligible men are the silent but potent looking Lord Manwaring, the calf-like Reginald de Courcy (Xavier Samuel) and the buffoon but vastly rich Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). Then there is a collection of relatives who all have an interest in these proceedings including the impossibly shrill Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray). Stillman keeps high comedy to the fore amongst these uncertain folk as Lady Susan implements her strategies with suitable variations when a problem arises.
Jane Austen’s genius has many sides but the importance of money in relation to love and friendship was a dynamic which she understood. Stillman in this adaptation of her novella pays tribute to her talent and has with Kate Beckinsale brought to prominence one of Austen’s lesser known heroines. Lady Susan is a young widow of considerable charm but highly dangerous to those who come within her orbit. It was a delight to observe Lady Susan at work and a comfort to know that she operated at a different time. Stillman has created a gem and is entitled to take an elegant eighteenth century bow.