Movie Review: Love & Friendship

I declared tonight a movie night, feeling the need for a little nurturing self care. Comfy clothes on, wrapped up in my late father’s Harley Davidson throw, a cup of hot Scottish tea in hand, I settled on a Christmas movie. But moments into the film, I stopped it. The movie I had picked out didn’t feel right, not tonight. 

Instead, I selected another movie from my Watch List on Amazon Prime, Love & Friendship, a historical comedy, if such a genre exists, based upon the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Written early in Austen’s writing career, this delightful little book wasn’t published until 50 plus years after her death. 

I was intrigued, being a fan of Jane Austen and of the many screen versions of her books. I have never read Lady Susan so I was unfamiliar with the story. As I began the movie, I knew I had made the right choice. 

Love & Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, Tom Bennett, Justin Edwards and Stephen Fry. This period piece that is classified as both a comedy and a drama, was directed by Whit Stillman. The movie carries a PG rating, for adult themes, and has a run time of 1 hour and 32 minutes. 

Set in England in the late 1700s, Love & Friendship tells the story of Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), recently a widow, and totally without funds. She is not, however, without intelligence, wit and beauty…and the ability to manipulate others. Determined to find husbands for herself and for her reluctant teenage daughter, Frederica (Clark), Lady Susan moves both of them into Churchhill, the magnificent estate of her brother-in-law, Charles (Edwards).

Lady Susan charms the gentlemen, no matter their age or marital status, and invites rumors and scandal, everywhere she goes. Her sister-in-law, Catherine (Greenwell) is very distraught over her uninvited houseguests, especially when Lady Susan appears to have captured the attention and heart of her handsome younger brother, Reginald (Samuel). 

Her only confidante and ally is the American, Alicia (Sevigny), married to an upstanding older gentleman, Mr. Johnson (Fry). It is through her comical and frank conversations with her friend Alicia that Lady Susan’s motives are exposed. While she attempts to play matchmaker between her daughter and the rather silly but wealthy James Martin (Bennett), the past threatens to catch up with Lady Susan, foiling all of her carefully laid out plans. 

This was a wonderful Jane Austen adaptation. The dialogue and characters were very much in Austen’s style…witty, engaging, likable. I was reminded of another of her films, Emma. The difference is that while Emma appears to be conniving and manipulative, she has a good and sincere heart that is always concerned with the welfare of others. 

Not so with Lady Susan. Her plotting and scheming is all centered around her own needs and gains, without regard for the well being of others. Initially I waited for the goodness in Susan to be revealed, as it is in many of Austen’s characters in her other stories. Once I realized Lady Susan was exactly as portrayed, I relaxed and simply enjoyed the tale. 

For enjoy it I did. The clever dialogue, comedy, and over-the-top dramatics created a highly entertaining film that kept a grin on my face. The period costumes were gorgeous, and the stately homes and English countryside created the perfect backdrop for this little known Austen work, allowing the story to come alive. Love & Friendship was exactly what I needed tonight. 

By movie’s end, somehow all had sorted itself out, and Lady Susan played the unique role of both the villain in the story and the heroine. I loved that. And now, I must read the novella. 

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