Released: May 2016

Director: Whit Stillman
Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Tom BennettXavier Samuel

5-stars

I am not a big fan of a period dramas and I’ve never read a Jane Austen book so I was not sure at all that I was going to like Love and Friendship. Based on the Austen short story Lady Susan (not, rather confusingly, on her other jarringly-spelled novella Love and Freindship), it tells the story of society lady Susan Vernon, recently widowed and trying to make her own way as best she can. So far so 18th Century. However, the first hint that Love and Friendship is not your standard historical society romance comes from it’s description by the writer-director as a period comedy. Humour rarely features heavily in films set in the 1700’s, and a period comedy is, as far as I can tell, still a genre of just this film. But it fits it perfectly. Love and Friendship is hilarious. Not ‘funny for a romance’ or ‘funny for a serious film’ but straight out funny.

Lady Susan is a terrible person. She is happy to flirt and seduce her way through life, hates her daughter, whom she considers rather a waste of space, and has no compunction about meddling in other people’s affairs. She is, however, terribly good fun to watch, and it is a delight to see such an unapologetic and determined woman amongst the niceties of Georgian society.

The story moves quickly, with much scheming and plotting as Lady Susan tries to secure the best husband and position for both herself and her daughter, whilst refusing to give up any of her more scandalous flings. Kate Beckinsale shines in the lead role, her face radiating a purity her schemes do not reflect, and her supporting cast is excellent. Stephen Fry and James Fleet have brief but point-perfect roles, almost as if to underline the films solid gold British comedy heart.  Tom Bennett is on excellent form as the utterly foolish Sir James Martin who seems quite delighted at any plan put to him, has no thoughts of his own and at various points is convinced to marry both daughter and mother.

The dialogue is sharp, funny and fresh. Despite sounding right for an Austen, it also sounds natural to a modern audience. The barbs come thick and fast, often from Lady Susan, and at the expense of love, marriage, friends, family and enemies. In trying to persuade her daughter to marry, she says “He has offered you the one thing of value he has to give- his income”, before moving on without giving you time to laugh at the brazenness of her truth.

This is a wonderful film, and may be not just the best Austen adaptation out there, but possibly the best film no one saw in 2016.

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