Love and Friendship Review

Posted: December 28, 2016 by Daniel Simpson (PG Cooper) in PG Cooper's Movie Reviews

love_and_friendshipWritten by Daniel Simpson

2016 saw not one, but two (relatively) major Jane Austen film adaptations that also diverged from your typical Austen film. The most obviously different would of course be Pride and Prejudices and Zombies, a film I skipped on the grounds that it looked like stupid trash and also because zombies are played out. Comparatively, Love and Friendship, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s lesser known novel Lady Susan seems pretty conventional. There are no flesh eating monsters after all, and Stillman also stays true to the source’s period setting and characters. That said, this is also a much more humorous adaptation of Austen’s work and that seems to have helped the film stand out. While the film is perhaps only a modest success in the grand scheme of things, Love and Friendship has received some very strong reviews and was one of the more interesting fixtures of many mid-year best of lists.

The film is set in the 1790s and focuses on Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a sophisticated woman who is essentially part of the upper class, but does find her financial situation in jeopardized following the death of her husband. Wanting to secure wealth, Lady Susan begins to seek a wealthy suitor for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), as well as a rich husband for herself. She soon comes to Churchhill estate and begins scheming various relationship plans involving the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin), the young and handsome Sir Reginald DeCourcy (James Fleet), and the dimwitted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). Though her exact plan is unclear, some insight can be found in her frequent meetings with fellow widow and schemer Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny).

The biggest surprise of Love and Friendship is the performance from Kate Beckinsale. I’ve always associated Beckinsale with schlock like the Underworld series and Van Helsing but her performance here indicates she has a lot more talent than those films would suggest. She clearly takes great delight in playing Lady Susan and also does a good job finding the character’s sophistication and intelligence. I wouldn’t call the performance a tour-de-force, but it is quite good and indeed a lot of the film’s fun comes strictly from Beckinsale. Another standout is Tom Bennett, who is charmingly stupid as Sir James Martin. The guy is so innocently oblivious to everything around him and he consistently got some chuckles out of me. It was also fun to see Chloë Sevigny in a more devious role than I’m used to seeing her play and the rest of the cast does just fine.

Unlike other Austen adaptations I’ve seen, Love and Friendship is more fully committed to being a full-on comedy. The humour largely comes from some very dry wit and amusing character interactions. I certainly admire Stillman for taking a different approach to Austen and I can also appreciate some of the clever writing, but I’d be lying if I said I found the film to be very funny. I certainly got some chuckles from Tom Bennett and Beckinsale is fun to watch, but there aren’t really a lot of laughs. That’s kind of a problem, especially considering this is a film that sacrifices story in favour of humour. The film willfully breezes by characters and plot machinations and in truth it’s kind of hard to follow, especially since the movie throws a lot of names at you pretty quickly. As a result, the story did very little for me and without the laughs to hold it together the film as a whole felt hollow.

The performances are generally quite good and the film is pretty well-made. Though the budget for this was relatively low, the costumes and sets all feel period accurate. Additionally, anyone who is a major Austen fan might well enjoy this a lot more than I did. Knowing the characters and the source material in advance will go a long way in helping one follow the story that also allows one to greater appreciate the witty screenplay and fun performances. For me though, this wasn’t really my jam, even if I can admire some of the things it does well.

C

Comments
  1. brikhaus says:

    I really enjoyed this one. I’m a sucker for period films. I thought it was funny, but the plot was a bit thin. My only real complaint was the ending. It just…stops. No resolution. That irked me. Otherwise, I liked it. Appreciate your review, haven’t seen too many blogger post about this movie.

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