LOVE & FRIENDSHIP
Director: Whit Stillman
Screenwriter: Whit Stillman – based on the novella, Lady Susan, by Jane Austen
Runtime: 90 mins.
Australian release date: 21 July 2016
Set in England in the 1790s, Whit Stillman’s latest film is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan, from which he has crafted a finely honed ‘modern’ comedy of manners. Love & Friendship reveals how some things in life never change and that, throughout the centuries there have been, and still are, women who’ll seek a husband purely for financial comfort. Gasp! Who knew? Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is one such woman.
When we first meet her, she and her hapless daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) are seeking shelter with wealthy relatives on a rambling estate in the countryside, having fled their previous digs because Lady Susan was having an affair with the master of the house, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin). She is looking for a rich, potential husband for Frederica so that she can then concentrate on finding the same for herself. However, the task is difficult because Lady Susan is a source of much gossip due to her reputation for previous dalliances and things become even more difficult when the selected target falls for her, not Frederica. All of these goings-on are confided to her gal-pal Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), a woman who hails from Connecticut but is married to Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry), an old-fashioned English gentleman who disapproves of his wife’s friendship with Lady Susan.
Some of the film’s best moments arise as the women exchange ironic comments on the morals of a stitched-up society that’s predominately ruled by class. The witty dialogue, lavish costumes and fabulous locations provide a mostly entertaining experience. If you enjoy dishonesty, deceit and a rollicking battle of the sexes, then Stillman’s lively interpretation could leave you sated but, regrettably, the pay-off is somewhat disappointing. The title is a little off the mark, too, as ‘love and friendship’ don’t really exist in Lady Susan’s world; even her friendship with Alicia smacks of a ‘marriage of convenience’. One can’t help but feel that a more suitable title for this film would’ve been ‘Deception & Ambition’, because those two traits go together like a horse and carriage in this tale.