Love & Friendship is a bitingly witty Jane Austen period drama true to the spirit of its source material.
Adapting any Jane Austen work to film is a risky venture. Her narratives are grounded in the culture of their time, with most of the “action” in the conversational interactions between characters. Director Whit Stillman has used this to advantage in Love & Friendship. He does not attempt to contemporise the story or the language of its characters, or to pander to chick lit expectations by highlighting the romantic elements. Instead, he stays true to the spirit of the source material. The result is a funny and ironic period piece that evokes the feisty Austen, channeling her authorial voice through the characters’ dialogue.
Austen’s acerbic wit and biting social commentary comes through loud and clear in the lead character, Lady Susan (played with sharp-tongued panache by a perfectly cast Kate Beckinsale). Recently widowed, her only assets being her beauty, wit and guile, Lady Susan is seeking a marriage befitting her status just as soon as a respectable time has elapsed. In other words, she is looking to marry into money.
In the meantime, she moves between wealthy relatives, staying as long as their hospitality stretches.
Planning her husband-snaring strategies with her well-married American confidante, Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), Lady Susan appears well placed to end up with the rich, dishy and well-educated Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), but things do not go as anticipated (for her or us).
A complication arises when her troublesome daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) finishes school and recoils at the prospect of marrying the suitor who is circling around her, the dopey but good-natured Sir James Martin (an endearingly ditzy Tom Bennett). Lady Susan considers him eminently suitable due to his wealth, but the rebellious Frederica announces she intends to support herself (the very idea!) through teaching, and refuses to countenance a marriage not based on love. Predictably enough, mother and daughter both end up getting what they want, but there is nothing predictable about their choices – and a delicious irony to each.
The film medium shows up the gorgeous period dress, architecture and décor to splendid effect. However, it otherwise brings little to the piece, which could have worked just about as well as theatre – an observation, not a criticism. The performers have fun working off a terrific script and are universally excellent, with Beckinsale and Bennett the standouts.
It’s hard to imagine a more faithful cinematic rendition of Austen than Love & Friendship. Austen fans are going to love it, as will anyone who enjoys consummately well-written and delivered dialogue-driven period drama with a more than generous twist of cutting wit and irony.
Movie website: http://loveandfriendshipmovie.com/
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