Director: Whit Stillman

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell

Classification: PG (Mild Themes)

Review by Peter Gray

For classic literature fans it’s fair to say that Jane Austen adaptations are the equivalent of tentpole movie events to them but there are only so many ‘Pride & Prejudice’ variations one can stomach, so it’s a welcome treat for Austen fans that one of her lesser-known back catalogue titles is receiving the cinematic treatment. Under the superb eye and penmanship of Whit Stillman, Austen’s novella ‘Lady Susan’ is gorgeously brought to life in ‘Love & Friendship’, an engaging comedy of manners and manipulation which invokes a career-best performance from Kate Beckinsale.

Armed with a wide-eyed blend of charm and deception, Beckinsale’s Lady Susan is far removed from the typical heroine antics Austen’s leading ladies tend to dabble in. Here she’s firing on all cylinders as she schemes amongst her well-to-do circle of “friends” in a bid to net herself a rich husband following the death of her former spouse left her destitute. Assisting her in this wicked game is confidant Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), an American who is more than willing to justify Lady Susan’s behaviour as she despairs her home life with her older husband (Stephen Fry, in what is ultimately little more than a glorified cameo) due to him being “too old to be made governable and too young to die”.

In Beckinsale’s hands Lady Susan still manages to be somewhat likeable as she forms insults as if they were compliments, and though her actions are entirely selfish she still harbours a sense of affection for those dearest to her; her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) being a prime example with their eventual relationship as rivals for the attention of slightly dim-witted aristocrat DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) not entirely damaging their bond.

As classically attired as the film is, Stillman manages to twist the conventions of what Austen audiences expect with the use of sarcastic title cards on-screen whenever a new character is introduced; it’s a simple gimmick but an effective one that only enhances the film’s overall humour. In addition to Beckinsale’s sharply-tongued performance, ‘Love & Friendship’ homes quite possible the year’s finest comedic performance in Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, Frederica’s “unintended” and a prime example of the stupidity and naivety one could harbour had they been raised in an all-too-privileged environment.

An absolute must-see for both Austen enthusiasts and those who appreciate their comedy subtle yet biting, ‘Love & Friendship’ is one of 2016’s true surprises that should easily align itself with other classic Austen titles to become staple viewing.

My rating: 4/5

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