Love & Friendship
Time Out says
The cattier, comic side of Jane Austen comes to life in a return to form for director Whit Stillman.
“If I loved you less,” Jane Austen famously wrote in Emma, “I might be able to talk about it more.” To judge from the spew of wall-to-wall chat in the witty, winning Love & Friendship (based on the author’s posthumously published novel Lady Susan), love is hardly on the minds of these characters—least of Susan (Kate Beckinsale), a high-class-born 18th-century schemer. Rather it's all about money, advantage and perceived affront: Beckinsale leans into her calculating role with an implied wink. She talks the talk of a liberated widow who’s still a magnet for male attention.
With an unpaid servant in tow, she arrives at the plush Churchill estate with the secret goal of wooing its young, handsome, impossibly rich scion, Reginald (Xavier Samuel), who falls for her immediately. But in an unrelated complication, Lady Susan’s teenage daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark, captivatingly guileless), shows up too. Sensing a potential romantic rival in her own blood, our devious heroine begins to plot with her American friend in London, Alicia (Chloë Sevigny, whose sloe-eyed ennui and flat delivery bring a welcome touch of seen-it-all modernity).
You might need a road map to follow all this, but Love & Friendship gains immeasurably from the humorous side-eye of its adapter-director, Metropolitan's Whit Stillman. His caustic way with the hermetically sealed worlds of the wealthy make him a perfect match for Austen, and he's not only expanded on her unfinished text (and reunited his chatty female costars from The Last Days of Disco) but found a way to make his own unmistakably droll voice speak in a vernacular hundreds of years old. Stillman's coup may be letting British actor Tom Bennett turn the minor character of Sir James into a comic feast of fatheadedness, particularly during a rambling monologue on the Twelve Commandments.
The story is a little slight compared to the grand romantic ache of Pride and Prejudice, but Beckinsale and Stillman do their inspiration proud: Finally, a Jane Austen movie that's fresh and deliciously rotten at the same time.
Follow Joshua Rothkopf on Twitter: @joshrothkopf
Cast and crew