Love & Friendship
One of the best Austen adaptations in film history.
Love & Friendship
Director: Whit Stillman (Barcelona)
Screenplay: Stillman ((Based on Jane Austen novella Lady Susan)
Cast: Kate Beckinsale (Underworld), Chloe Sevigny (Shattered Glass)
Runtime: 92 min.
by John DeSando
“Facts are horrid things.” Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale)
We have lived through countless adaptations of Jane Austen’s late 18th and early 19th-century romances, not the least Pride and Prejudice, but I guarantee none of us has seen the likes of Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, which uses Austen’s novella, Lady Susan, as its source. The Lady’s quote above should give you the flavor of her sweet venom that manipulates the most stolid and wary gentleman.
Where the usual screen version is chock-full of sumptuous estates, carriages, and costumes, Stillman’s take starts with rich language, at times delivered at a screwball pace, and adds the other elements as mere backdrop to drop-dead acid discourse with the upper-class men ample fodder for Austen’s satirical pen.
Any man’s match and then some, the Lady says this about Stephen Fry’s Mr. Johnson, “Too old to be governable, and too young to die.” When she learns that he could serve his wife a punishment by moving to Connecticut, Lady Susan says, “You could be scalped.” Even the Americans are not spared her withering estimation.
As a woman in a man’s world, Lady Susan navigates the best way she can: Her tongue and her lovely visage are formidable weapons in her quest to provide comfortable living for herself and her underachieving daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark).
Even the sub-plots are masterfully rendered, humorous in themselves but never overshadowing the main action of Lady Susan working everyone for her comfort and advancement. When Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) is in a scene, watch a future comedy star in the making, but note how he doesn’t dominate the scene but rather enriches it with his endearing blockheadness.
Love & Friendship is one of the finest Austen adaptations in film history and surely a brilliant testimony to the enduring charm of romance and its hyper-form, the screwball comedy.
John DeSando, a Los Angeles Press Club first-place winner for National Entertainment Journalism, hosts WCBE’s It’s Movie Time and co-hosts Cinema Classics. Contact him at JDeSando@Columbus.rr.com