Love & Friendship (2016)


Jane Austen is known for her witty satires mocking Regency society. This film, inspired by one of her earlier, lesser-known works, has charm but reveals an author who has not yet perfected her trade.


It's all a terrible scandal, but none of it is her fault, you see.


Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) cannot help being charming, nor can she help other men (sometimes married) falling in love with her. These things happen... and this time, it casts her out of the home of Lady Manwaring (Jenn Murray), who rather resents the notion of sharing her husband with a widow. The fuss is enough that Lady Susan's American friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny) cannot open her home and receive her, in case her English husband decides to banish Alicia back to America (where her politics are unpopular). So, Lady Susan has no choice but to move to the country with her in-laws.


There, she makes a conquest of her sister in law's younger brother... contends with the expulsion of her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) from finishing school... tries to marry her daughter off to a ludicrous man... all while pining for Lord Manwaring and insisting nothing is her fault.


When Jane Austen wrote Emma, she remarked that she was penning a heroine no one but herself might much like; Lady Susan makes Emma a delight in comparison -- a witty, cutting, selfish manipulator, who manages to make everyone around her miserable. It's an interesting look into Austen's work before she perfected her technique, with all the usual hallmarks of her material -- buffoons, idiots, and wit aplenty, but the film struggles a bit. There is a problem of being told and not shown important scenes; the musical score comes and goes, often using silence when anything else might help the mood; Sevigny is an odd choice for a period piece (and often leaning awkwardly back on her corset). The cast is quite good overall, and Beckinsale delivers her lines with cheek and flair.


The costumes are lovely, with only a few minor mishaps... the filming technique is a bit odd, however; with clunky but funny introductions to everyone (switching to a new place, we "meet" the players with often sarcastic placards). The first half hour drags and then the storyline unfolds with greater ease. I didn't love it, and will probably never watch it again, but it was fun to see an earlier Austen piece... and one set in the Georgian period rather than Regency.

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