An incredible film adaptation, Love & Friendship is based on Jane Austin's novella Lady Susan, which was published well after her death. Unlike the rest of Austin's work, her title character is the antithesis of the principled, proper heroines she usually writes about. Lady Susan does not just wait and pine for the affections of the distinguished men around her, but goes after them with the carefully planned flirtations of a Victorian-age cougar. Instead of making her a pariah like so many stories set in this era with ambitious women at their core, Lady Susan is far too clever to fall prey to even those around her creating her tale.
Lady Susan has just been evicted by her hosts, Lord and Lady Manwaring. Lord Manwaring is clearly very sorry to see her go, but his Lady is obviously relieved to see the back of her. She turns up on the doorstep of her closest and dearest friend, former American Loyalist Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny). Her husband (the incomparable Stephen Fry) does not approve of his wife keeping company with such a wicked woman, so Lady Susan arranges long term residency in Churchill at the estate of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife Catherine (Emma Greenwell).
Lady Susan is flustered when her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), is expelled from her school and comes to stay at the Vernon estate as well. It throws a wrench in her plan to attempt to pair her with the Vernon's ridiculously wealthy and terribly stupid neighbor, Sir James Martin (played rather ingeniously by Tom Bennett).
It also makes Lady Susan's vying for the handsome and very eligible young brother of Catherine Vernon, the worldly Reginald (Xavier Samuel), a bit more difficult, as Frederica has set her sights on him as well.
Kate Beckinsale is captivating, aglow and cunning as Lady Susan Vernon who is constantly plotting to improve her station. She is has a sharp tongue and no filter, making her dialogue very nearly shocking against picturesque gardens in glamorous fabrics.
The costuming, thanks to Irish costume designer Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, is so rich and luscious that the dresses are nearly characters in their own right.
Wonderfully dry and incredibly witty, Love & Friendship honestly feels much like a Wes Anderson adaptation of the Jane Austin work: the soundtrack, the character introductions, their relationships and reactions to one another are all done in such a way that it feels much like a Victorian era Royal Tenenbaums. It's all thanks to director Whit Stillman, who has brought Austin's early novella to life. His films often celebrate conversation, and here, with its astounding cast, he has created something that is not only unabashedly mirthful in it's dialogue, it is very nearly a modern tale in another time- making it able to appreciated by audiences who might normally skip period pieces.
Rating: PG (for some thematic elements)
Directed By: Whit Stillman
Written By: Whit Stillman
In Theaters: May 13, 2016 Limited
Runtime: 1 hr. 34 min.