Love and Friendship (PG) | Close-Up Film Review

Love and Friendship


Dir. Whit Stillman, Irish/French/Dutch, 2016. 92 mins.

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, Jemma Redgrave, Stephen Fry, Xavier Samuel, Tom Bennett

A comedy of manners set in the 1790s, the artificiality of the speech and behavior is perfectly in keeping with the times of Jane Austen’s epistolary short novel, untitled but known as ‘Lady Susan.’ Depending to a large extent on the performances of a glorious cast of mainly British actors, the style and content are just right for fans of Jane Austen as well as newcomers to her work.

Pursued by rumours concerning her flirtatious behaviour, Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale – a not so sad) widow comes to Churchill, the home of her in-laws, brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell). Susan is actively looking for a wealthy husband for herself and also one for her schoolgirl daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark).

Susan has one particular friend, American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) with whom she discusses the two men who come into her life. There’s attractive Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), whose family, sister Catherine and his mother and father (Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet) are very much against the match of the older widow with a dubious reputation and the bachelor Reginald. Also in the picture is the stupid but very jolly and, of course, extremely rich, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) who Susan is keen on marrying to her daughter Frederica. Frederica, on the other hand, is very against this proposed union. On the side Susan is carrying on an illicit affair with the married Lord Manwaring.

In spite of written explanantions about the characters which appear on screen from time to time, it is sometimes difficult to remember relationships, for instance: Catherine Vernon is Susan’s late husband’s brother’s wife.

Apart from the humorous dialogue there are some lovely comic characters. Chief amongst these is Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin who bounces around and is frequently hilarious. Stephen Fry has a tiny cameo which he performs to perfection. He uses his fruity voice to convey the haughtiness of Mr Johnson, the husband of Alicia, at the intrigues of his wife’s friend.

Especially good in small parts are Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwaring, the constantly weeping, wronged wife of Lord Manwaring and Kelly Campbell as the poverty stricken Mrs Cross, Lady Susan’s unpaid companion who is there to “help pack and unpack.”

Newcomer Morfydd Clark is cute as young Frederica, who is pursued by Sir James Martin but falls for her mother’s amour, Sir Reginald. Kate Beckinsale is delightful in the main part of Lady Susan. At times we love her and at other times dislike her intensely as she manipulates, lies and undertakes various activities to improve her position in society.

This is a very diffferent, highly original interpretation of a Jane Austen work and it brings out the satire which many other filmed versions of her novels lack. Well worth seeing.

Review by Carlie Newman