Reuniting with Last Days Of Disco's Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny, Whit Stillman follows up Damsels In Distress with this funny adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan.
Widow Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) arrives at her in-laws grand estate with plans to marry her sister-in-law's (Emma Greenwall) brother, eligible bachelor Reginald De Courcy (Samuel). The potential union is frowned upon by Reginald’s stiff father (Broadbent), seeing the widow too old for his son; in any case, Lady Susan seems to be hedging her bets, keeping up correspondence with the married Lord Mainwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain). Meanwhile, her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) has just run away from school and refuses to be married to the foolish Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), and falls under the charms of Reginald…
The typical Stillman oddball sense of humour is at play but the jokes are stronger here than in the hit-and-miss Damsels In Distress. The very Wes Anderson style of introducing characters – portrait style with names and personality traits in captions – is fun with Beckinsale's eponymous anti-hero, whose "genius is diabolical", reigning supreme. Like Max Fischer, she glides about delivering barbed comments with a matter-of-fact bluntness ("Maybe in physical terms I’m cuter than you but you should be more popular than I am"), completely convinced of her own brilliance and oblivious to her pomposity. She employs a maid but to actually pay her would be an insult to them both. An anomaly in Jane Austen's writing, she's not a protagonist that’s moral or upstanding but devious and cunning. She’s a crooked line in a genre that's very straight and rigid.
If it wasn't for the bumbling Martin she'd have the film entirely to herself but Phone Shop's Bennett, described as "a bit of a rattle" is a hoot too. However he does suffer from the Stillman trait of writing characters too stupid to be believable (he's shocked to learn there are only Ten Commandments; peas are "tiny green balls").
When Love & Friendship forgets it's a comedy it loses some of its magic. Getting stuck into the plot and the web Lady Susan weaves in the latter half the gags gets lost for a time before making a late comeback. Visually, Stillman doesn't interrupt things with eye-catching shots and just lets the cast get stuck into his witty screenplay that always stays just this side of parody.
A Jane Austen adaptation for people who don't like Jane Austen adaptations.