One of the best films of the year, LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is now available to be loved and befriended in the privacy of your own home.
A sly story of sex and sensibility, the script is based on an obscure short fiction called Lady Susan by Jane Austen, adapted for the screen and directed by the wily Whit Stillman.
Set in two hundred year ago England, the film starts explosively with a domestic disturbance at a stately country home and the ominous narration “If only it hadn’t been for Langford how happy we might have been.” Delicious.
Seems Lady Susan Vernon, recent widow and single mum, is something of a wanton and a spendthrift. She high tails it to Churchill, last vestige of the Vernon estate, owned and occupied by Charles Vernon and his wife, Catherine, formerly a de Courcy, whose brother, Reginald, falls under Susan’s spell.
And so we have a potential cross pollination of families and a plot for Susan and her daughter to play for succor while playing society for sucker.
It is a truth acknowledged by the conniving Lady Susan that the acquisition of money is a necessary quibble but her inherent avarice is adverse to spending.
She won’t pay her lady in waiting, Mrs Cross, because of their friendship and the fees at her daughter, Frederica’s school, are far too high to even think of paying.
Frederica consequently comes to stay at Churchill, where Lady Susan’s inner Mommie Dearest surfaces like an elegant wire coat-hanger, “having children is our fondest wish – they become our worst critics. She’d do anything to spite me.”
Despite their suspicions and concerns about the duplicitous Lady Susan, Frederica is taken into the bossom of both the Vernon and De Courcy families, her innate charm and sweet singing voice endearing her as the Surrey Songbird and Kentish Nightingale respectively.
Stillman is not prolific – only five feature films in twenty-six years- but his achievement is prodigious; his five previous pictures, Metropolitan, Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco, and Damsels in Distress, each and every one a gorgeous gem.
The exquisite casting is key in the realisation of this sublime Austen adaptation, the equal, if not superior to, Emma Thompson’s sensational take on Sense and Sensibility.
Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan possibly a career pinnacle, a self-possessed, scheming, manipulative, outmaneuvering mistress of the manners and morals of society, breathtaking in her poise and timing, a diabolic genius, she dupes to conquer.
Tom Bennett creates an impeccable, charming imbecile as the clueless Sir James Martin, an astonishing comic accomplishment.
And swirling all round in the fabulous firmament of Austen’s tenacious universe, Xavier Samuel, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards and Morfydd Clark.
Production design, cinematography and musical scoring are all first rate, with every contributor deserving a prejudice of pride in the project.
If you were genius to see it on its theatrical release you’ll be pleased to know it stands up stupendously on a second viewing and will undoubtedly continue to entertain on repeat visits.
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP DVD/Blue Ray contains a brilliant bonus “behind the scenes” featurette and is available now.
Featured image – Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in ‘Love and Friendship’.