To discover any work by the wonderful Jane Austen that has not already been made into a costume comedy, Bollywood musical, modern-day adaptation, vampire flick or any other mind-boggling variation of genre is always refreshing.
But in the case of Love and Friendship, based on her little-known novella Lady Susan, it is an out and out delight.
This waspish, sharp, witty, spiteful and downright naughty version of Austen’s usual tales of manners and social mores is like a palate-cleansing sherbert after too many formal, rich courses. Under the confident hand of director Whit Stillman it travels its own highly idiosyncratic path and never veers in terms of tone or shade; that doesn’t make it a love it or hate it movie, more love it and then love it some more.
Kate Beckinsale, on astonishingly good form in a comedic role, plays the said Lady Susan. Widowed and with her winsome daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) in tow, she is now dependent on relatives to take her in. As she says with a heartfelt sigh, ‘we don’t live, we visit’. The big problem is that beautiful, coquettish Lady Susan can’t help flirting with the masters of any house she finds herself abiding in and so what should be visits that last a season or so are often cut abruptly short.
While she is ostensibly looking for a would-be suitor for her rather less-than-willing daughter, she’s surreptitiously keeping an eye out for a beau of her own, even if he is the husband of the lady of the house she just happens to be a guest in.
What seems so modern about her behaviour is she absolutely believes she’s always in the right and everyone else is vilifying her. Talking to her best friend and acolyte Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny, who is an American, so what more do we expect?), Lady Susan’s sense of outraged injustice that people don’t see things her way is delightfully churlish. ‘You mustn’t reproach yourself,’ says Alicia after yet another indiscretion means Susan and Frederica must beat a hasty retreat from a relative’s country mansion. ‘I won’t,’ breathes Susan, utterly unaware of the mayhem and destruction she has left in her wake.
The gorgeous locations and costumes are a bonus here, but what really make the movie are the bubbling script, the characters’ delight in the way their words are like zinging barbs, apparently meaning one thing but actually imparting a totally different meaning, and the sublime Kate Beckinsale, sailing blithely through proceedings like a galleon, sails unfurled and stopping to take no prisoners.
Love and friendship is charming, delightful, witty, mischievous, tongue-in-cheek and an absolute unexpected gem.
Please Kate, do more comedy – who knew it suited you so much better than being a vampire.