Whit Stillman – the idiosyncratic American director behind The Metropolitans, Barcelona and The Last Days of Disco – has adapted Lady Susan into Love & Friendship. The film follows persona non grata and widower Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) as she escapes rumour, slinks into new dalliances and rises above pretty much all of Regency society. There’s everything you expect from Austen here; troublesome lotharios, boorish suitors and sharp-witted women.
It’s also hilarious. The film’s a departure from usual Austen-fare, laughing in the face of all those sincere, soft-lit adaptations before it. But with its tongue-in-cheek wit (mocking character descriptions drop down whenever someone new is introduced), it’s far truer to Austen’s writing style than any rain-drenched love scene.
However you feel about adaptations, you’ll enjoy this for its central performance. Beckinsale reels off laugh-out-loud (and long) lines like she’s been learning them since birth. She puts Sherlock to shame. Stillman’s screenplay is irresistible – funny, full of in-jokes and true to Austen’s sharp tongue.
The film’s other hook is reuniting Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny under Stilman’s direction. Eighteen years ago, in The Last Days of Disco they played two New York book editors stuck in a toxic friendship. Here they play two socialites stuck in a toxic society. Their relationship still has bite, but now it also has a warmth that provides welcome interludes between all that Georgian maneuvering. It’s a joy to watch their private conversations; Beckinsale’s lead and Sevigny’s follow is a rare glimpse into female friendship on screen.
Though it’s Beckinsale’s film, Stillman lets the whole cast shine. Tom Bennett’s goofy Sir James Martin gets regular laughs. Xavier Samuel plays the romantic foil with touching depth; surprising for audiences raised on stale rom-coms, but not those used to Austen’s masterful characterisation.
Love & Friendship is a welcome comment on Austen’s society, Austen’s writing, and a fabulous star vehicle for Kate Beckinsale. But it’s also a satisfying rumination on love, friendship, family, religion, marriage – anything that takes Stillman’s interest. It’s nice to leave a film feeling that such an original and interesting talent is staying that original and interesting.
|What||Love and Friendship film review|
|Where||Various Locations | MAP|
|Nearest tube||Leicester Square (underground)|
27 May 16 – 29 Jul 16, Event times vary
|Price||£determined by cinema|
|Website||Click here to visit the film's IMDB page|