Review of “Love & Friendship”: Lavish Jane Austen adaptation — which is told through letters — is a pure pleasure. Rating: 3.5 stars out of 4.
Lady Susan Vernon, the dubious heroine of Jane Austen’s 1790s-era novella “Lady Susan,” is a very accomplished flirt: the sort, an acquaintance notes, who “does not confine herself to that sort of honest flirtation which satisfies most people, but aspires to the more delicious gratification of making a whole family miserable.” She is, in short, someone who would be thoroughly annoying in real life, but quite delightful in fiction — and, in Whit Stillman’s sparkling comedy “Love & Friendship,” on screen.
As played by a splendidly hatted Kate Beckinsale, Susan is a velvet-voiced, prettily smiling schemer; a young widow seeking well-positioned husbands for herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) while depending on the hospitality of others. (“We don’t live,” she notes, of herself and Frederica. “We visit.”) As the film begins, she is preparing to descend upon the country estate of her late husband’s brother. Chaos, in that wonderfully orderly Austen way, ensues.
“Lady Susan,” a brief early work unpublished during Austen’s lifetime, is told almost entirely through letters, and Stillman appropriately borrows that convention — I can’t think when I last saw a movie with so much handwriting in it, both in props and on the screen. (He also borrowed the title from a juvenile story from the author, charmingly misspelled by a teenage Austen as “Love and Freindship.”) While you wish there were a little more to it, and that the wonderful Stephen Fry (who nibbles at the edge of this film like a cat with a newspaper) had more to do, “Love & Friendship” is pure pleasure, from the lavishly precise sets and costumes to the pitch-perfect tone. It’s self-consciously mannered and merrily playful; a mixture that Austen herself might find just right.
Movie Review ★★★½
‘Love & Friendship,’ with Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Chloë Sevigny, Stephen Fry. Written and directed by Whit Stillman, based on the novella “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen. 93 minutes. Rated PG for some thematic elements. Several theaters.