Honest confession: I detest Jane Austen’s works. She dithers, never gets to a point and her writing drives me up the wall. Even with the addition of zombies, I still found her writing boring. Every time I say this to someone, they look as if I’ve insulted their mother with the foulest language known to man. You’re not allowed to hate Austen, but…I still do and, yes, that includes the BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with Mr Colin “Saucy-pants” Firth. Sorry, World, it was very long, very drawn out and Mr Darcy is kind of a prick.
So, when I heard Whit Stillman’s new film was based on a novella by Jane Austen, and not even one of her well known works, I was sceptical that I’d like it. However, 5 minutes into this film, I had already laughed out loud twice and was absolutely smitten with Lady Susan. Kate Beckinsale (Underworld) was absolutely crush-worthy. She was beautiful, of course, and her clothes were impeccable but it was her use of words that had me utterly engaged. Suddenly Austen’s frustrating standard of completely talking around the point was hilarious instead of irritating. I was stunned. Was this film the key to turning me into an Austen convert?*
Love & Friendship is a story of recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) who is trying her hardest to find a new place to live (and a new eligible husband) whilst also keeping her reputation intact. Lady Susan definitely has a reputation, but she’s just very, very good at dissuading people from seeing it.
Lady Susan is a silver-tongued genius who could convince even the most stubborn of people to change their mind and this is exactly what she spends the entire film accomplishing.
In order to save what is left of her late husband’s fortune, she moves to her in-law’s very lovely estate outside of London. There she promptly begins a “subtle” courtship of her sister-in-law’s brother, whilst also attempting to secure a future husband for her young daughter.
The most thrilling element of this fantastic web of polite (and impolite) social customs is that you know as the viewer that Lady Susan is lying, but when she speaks, you are just as persuaded as her poor hapless victim. She is just far more clever than any of her counterparts, especially ever-silly Sir James Martin played by Tom Bennett.
Sir James Martin was by far my favourite character. His goofy face with its permanently fixed, dazed smile was priceless. He scored laugh after laugh from me (and the audience) and his simpleton-like character was just so lovely that all I wanted to do was give him a hug.
Delightfuly, something Love and Friendship has over the 5 hour Pride and Prejudice mini-series, is its hour and a half running time. Amazing! In a world filled with movies that run consistently over the 2 hour mark, this shorter gem is an utter delight. It ends just when it should and I was entertained the whole way through. The banter gets better and better and you sit there clapping your giddy little hands with glee as Lady Susan gets herself into (and out of) more and more trouble. It is utterly brilliant.
So, well done Mr. Stillman. You’ve managed to make a fast-talking, costume comedy with the most politely insulting script that would have made Maggie Smith’s Dowager Countess of Grantham (Downton Abbey) blush. I loved it.
Thank you for making this Austen-hater realise that there’s something of worth in her works; though perhaps it’s just better when they’re not in her hands.
*the answer is no, but the sentiment was there…