Written and directed by Whit Stillman (Metropolitan, Last Days Of Disco), Love & Friendship is a screen adaption of one of Jane Austen’s lesser-known short novels ‘Lady Susan’. But fear ye not, this is not yet another stuffy period drama about some sappy romance or another. Hugely entertaining, Whitman successfully marries the delightfulness and charm of a typical Austen novel to popular culture.
Kate Beckinsdale plays the manipulative but beguiling Lady Susan who, recently widowed, is on a ruthless mission to find a husband for her reluctant daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and herself. Of course, it should be a man of sufficient means, no matter what form he might take.
She sets about rampaging through the hearts and minds of the young, handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the rich and dim-witted Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) and the deliciously handsome, but married, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain). The latter further complicates the situation with his hysterical and rightfully paranoid wife Lady Lucy Manwaring always on his trail.
All along the way, Lady Susan confides her frustrations and her devious plots to her close friend Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), an American married to an English aristocrat, Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry).
This is undoubtedly Kate’s funniest and sharpest performance. When Lady Susan first arrives on screen with a friend Mrs. Cook (Kelley Campbell) who she has employed as her assistant but without payment as it would be “offensive to us both”, we immediately know that we are in for a good ride with Ms. B. And somewhat of a surprise, given the roles we have seen her in, to date.
Yes, you would be forgiven for thinking that Kate Beckinsdale’s main talent is probably brushing her hair 100 times a night to maintain her luxurious mane or hitting the gym 24/7 to slip into yet another lycra jumpsuit. But finally cast in a role that gives her a voice and shows that she can work humour, Love & Friendship will throw Beckinsdale right up the acting richter scale in many a cynical eye. Just like any Jane Austen character in the battle of the sexes, it seemed as if Kate had a lot to prove.
On a recent appearance on the Graham Norton Show (BBC One) she made comment about director Michael Bay in the casting of Transformers: ‘“I think he was baffled by me because my boobs weren’t bigger than my head and I wasn’t blonde.” She then goes onto recall her time working with Bay on the 2001 period film ‘Pearl Harbour,’ and accused the director of caring much less about her acting skills than the acting talent of her male co-stars, Ben Affleck and Josh Hartnett. Not too wide a stretch of the imagination given that whilst working on the film he kept repeatedly telling the press he specifically hired someone who was not too attractive. Does not seem much has changed in the man-woman divide since Austen’s days, does it?
See it for yourself in Love & Friendship – a wonderfully acted, well-scripted and very entertaining film.