Copyright © 2016 by Roadside Attractions
In the wake of her husband’s death, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) become guests at Charles Vernon’s (Justin Edwards) country home. Known to be flirtatious around the many men she has met, Lady Susan schemes her way to secure a new and wealthy husband for herself and Frederica with the help of her closest friend, Mrs Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny). The potential suitors ensnared are a charming married man (Lochlann O’Mearáin), a handsome relative (Xavier Samuel) and an affluent dullard (Tom Bennett).
Giving a Jane Austen novel the treatment it rightfully deserves presents challenges of pleasing her most ardent followers while also appealing to a generation unfamiliar with her literary classics. The 1995 television miniseries of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ starring Colin Firth and Jennifer Ehle is a competent and faithful adaptation of Austen’s work but it is still plagued with languid pacing.
Then, Ang Lee and Joe Wright happened. Lee turned ‘Sense and Sensibility’ into a $100 million smash and Wright’s movie version of ‘Pride and Prejudice’ nine years later equaled that accomplishment. Both are lauded for hewing as closely to the source material but it is Lee and Wright’s contemporary freshness imbued, winning over many new and unlikely admirers.
The latest from Whit Stillman, ‘Love & Friendship’ (in and of itself shares the same title as one of her juvenile stories) is an expansion of one of Austen’s lesser known fictions ‘Lady Susan’. While it will never scale the heights of Lee’s elegant and Wright’s youthful treatments, Stillman’s long absences between films have not diminished his exuberance as a film maker and it rubs off on Beckinsale performing the best she has ever been in a long time since her last resplendent role from 2008.
After underwhelming in the ‘Underworld’ franchise, ‘Van Helsing’, ‘Click’, ‘Whiteout’ and the ‘Total Recall’ remake, Beckinsale is in top form here and she charges along furiously obliterating the rest of the cast’s relevance (with an exception to Bennett’s hilariously vacuous Sir James Martin). As with the unfairly dismissed ‘Pride and Prejudice and Zombies’ earlier this year, see it with a good friend and you will find there is much to love in Stillman’s comeback triumph.
Rated PG for some thematic elements