Expect a nomination for Kate Beckinsale at next year’s Oscars for her performance as the deliciously manipulative Lady Susan Vernon in Love & Friendship, Whit Stillman’s superb adaptation of a Jane Austen short story. In fact, expect nominations for Whitman too, as this is quite possibly his finest film to date.
Whilst residing at various relative’s homes to cover her living costs, recently widowed Lady Susan hatches a scheme to wed her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to wealthy but hilariously imbecilic Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). At the same time she wraps the young Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel) around her finger, toying with his affections whilst carrying on an affair with the married Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain). Along the way she explains her plans to her friend and confidant Alicia Johnson (Chloe Segivny) whose boorish husband (Stephen Fry) is, alas, “too old to be governable, too young to die”.
Love & Friendship is an absolute delight; a witty gem of a film that delights in the cynical and surprisingly racy machinations of Austen’s text. Stillman proves the perfect director to helm this film, adding his own unique dry, observational sensibilities that recall the heyday of his earlier work in films like The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan (the latter contains a very amusing Austen reference, incidentally). Whitman’s direction is spare, economical and idiosyncratic, with wry instances of characters being introduced by onscreen text, along with other text when letters or verse are being read out at key moments.
Eschewing the overt romanticism of Austen’s other work, Love & Friendship has a subtlety, sophistication and incisive bite which actually reminds one more of Oscar Wilde. The supporting cast are excellent, the cinematography first rate, and did I mention how funny this film is? Its trim 90 minutes contain more laughs than many an alleged comedy.
In short, Love & Friendship comes very highly recommended.