Love & Friendship (4 stars)

Love & Friendship

Delightful Austen adaptation from cult favourite Whit Stillman, with Kate Beckinsale

A discerning cult rejoice when there is a new treat from writer-director Whit Stillman, who has made only five films in 26 years. His 1990 debut, the original charmer Metropolitan, was an ironic social comedy set among Manhattan debutantes and preppies, which drew rapturous comparisons to Jane Austen. Now Stillman has adapted Austen herself, and very handsomely, although this is Austen as few think of her: subversive. Her short epistolary novel Lady Susan, written by a teenaged Jane but never submitted by her for publication, centres on a shocking woman – an unscrupulous, cynical, manipulative sexual predator.

Glamorous widow Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) is penniless, unfeelingly eager to dispose of her neglected daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with a wealthy dolt, and dependent on the hospitality of in-laws and friends. It’s amazing she has any of the latter, because she is a selfish schemer with a notorious reputation and a gift for acidic, sly one-liners. But she has intelligence as well as beauty, with the wit and charm to wrap dopey young poshos around her little finger. In the wake of a scandal with a married man, Lady Susan sets her pert feathered cap at yummy Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), brother of her horrified sister-in-law Catherine (Emma Greenwell), who strives desperately to steer the bewitched Reginald towards Susan’s sweet but unspectacular daughter instead.

Most of the men in this world are nice but dim, save a stern Stephen Fry as the sensible, disapproving older husband of Susan’s bosom buddy and accomplice in her complicated immoral intrigues, Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny, who last starred with Beckinsale in Stillman’s marvellous The Last Days of Disco); he is, as Susan deplores, ‘too old to be agreeable and too young to die.’ Some of the delicious lines are straight from the text but many are Stillman’s own work, and his direction adds some knowing campery – characters introduced posing heroically with amusing explanatory captions such as ‘a divinely handsome young man’, or ‘wealthy wife’. Boasting a beautifully calibrated tone, it’s wickedly droll and choicely acted by the entire ensemble.

General release from Fri 27 May.

Love & Friendship

  • 4 stars
  • 2016
  • Ireland / Netherlands / France / US
  • 1h 32min
  • U
  • Directed by: Whit Stillman
  • Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry

Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) is penniless, selfish and keen to marry off her nelfected daughter to the nearest wealthy dolt, but she's also smart, witty and beautiful. Stillman gives a wickedly droll adaptation of Jane Austen's short novel, choicely acted by the whole ensemble.