Today: July 20, 2024

Love & Friendship

Oh how the British do so love their period dramas. All the finery of the costumes, the cut glass accents, the decadence of the real estate and the decorum of societal behaviour. But while Love & Friendship might look like something you might find channel hopping on a Sunday evening on the BBC it is a delightful skew that resoundingly transcends the stereotypes to be one of the year’s most cutting and funny films.

Based on Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan the film follows the recently widowed Susan (Kate Beckinsale) as she goes to stay with her in-laws. There she meets Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) and before long has decided that he will make a very appropriate next husband, much to the horror of his father Sir Reginald (James Fleet). Confiding everything in her American friend Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), much to her husband’s (Stephen Fry) displeasure, Susan confirms that she is hoping to marry off her only daughter to the bumbling idiot Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) in the hope of securing both of their futures. But the course of love never did run smooth, despite Susan’s unflinching ability to manipulate all those around her.

Let’s be honest, the best thing about Downton Abbey was always Maggie Smith’s Violet Crawley’s barbed, blunt instrument refusal to censor herself. Even in the face of what society deemed acceptable at the time. Take those occasional scenes in Downton and image them across an entire film and you’re somewhere close to the cheeky glee of Love & Friendship. Susan is a no-holds-barred master of a turn of phrase, happily referring to even her daughter as a simpleton, all with the caveat that she does, of course, love her dearly. The dialogue is so wonderfully peppered with insults and insinuations that are apparently excusable all because they are accompanied by, in essence, the oxymoron that is ‘with all due respect’.

Of course it would take an American, in the form of writer director Whit Stillman, to truly capture the quintessential British nature of this confusing social minefield. Because it is amid all the etiquette of the era, all the pomp and wonderfully proper behaviour that Stillman finds a playfulness that will have you chuckling and smiling throughout. It’s never visually arresting, Stillman isn’t interested in dazzling you with flashy camera moves or gorgeous, Joe Wright levels of cinematography. If anything Stillman is orchestrating a play, something Love & Friendship would work decidedly well as.

In the lead role Beckinsale is in career best form. It seems getting her out of that vampire catsuit of the Underworld franchise reveals a genuinely talented actress. Her Susan perfectly poised, her delivery kirt, whimsical and never anything less than charmingly manipulative. Alongside her Samuel gives a solid turn as the easily fooled but always proper Reginald while Sevigny flirts with being just as snide as Beckinsale but always keeping her cards closer to her chest. But the scene stealer is Bennett’s Martin. He’s one of those people who speaks too much, a desperate attempt to appear more intelligent that only serves in highlighting his ignorance. If ever there is a scene that will have you laughing as hard over a plate of peas as Bennett’s confusion at the “little green balls” does then cinema will be all the better for it.

Love & Friendships takes a well worn premise and puts a wonderfully unique spin on it. It’s funny, keenly observed and, in a world rife with social media gossip, delightfully relevant.

Alex Moss Editor

Alex Moss’ obsession with film began the moment he witnessed the Alien burst forth from John Hurt’s stomach. It was perhaps ill-advised to witness this aged 6 but much like the beast within Hurt, he became infected by a parasite called ‘Movies’. Rarely away from his computer or a big screen, as he muses on Cinematic Deities, Alex is “more machine now than man. His mind is twisted and evil”. Email: alex.moss@filmjuice.com

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Love & Friendship

Written and directed by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Last Days Of