Never really tried Jane Austen, dip your toe in here. It’s fun well acted and has peas…

Love and Friendship

Directed by: Whit Stillman

Written by: 
Whit Stillman, from the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Morfydd Clark, Tom Bennett, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Justin Edwards

The widow Lady Susan Vernon has travelled to the estate of her late husband’s brother to avoid society gossip and to try and find a situation in which she and daughter, Frederica, can secure their futures with strong finances and standing.  Lady Susan is flamboyant, vivacious and clever enough to engineer those about her so her ambitions are met.

Whit Stillman’s film is based on the short novel by Jane Austen is not billed as an all-out comedy but it certainly should make most viewers laugh from beginning to end. With Tom Bennett coming in all guns blazing as Sir James Martin a distant relative of Tim ‘Nice but Dim’ surely the laughs are guaranteed whilst everyone else from Kate Beckinsale, never better, Morfydd Clark and Justin Edwards keep the laughing bubbling away until Sir James arrives back on the screen. Every scene involving Bennett is stolen as he crafts a hilarious fool playing to his strengths as a comic actor.

This not to say other British stalwarts do not put in a good shift because they do. You do not have to like Austen or be the biggest fan of the author but it probably helps as you will instantly get ‘into’ the film from the get-go. For others, myself included the style, language and nuances of Austen take a little while to tune into but all this requires is a bit of concentration and you are there.

The film did sag for me in the middle stretch where my attention faltered but I put that down to the viewer not the film and I have to say I was smiling throughout and trying to figure which way the story was going to run. I did call the ‘hook-ups’ and ending before the film finished – and that is without any previous knowledge.

The custom design, locations and cinematography are as good as you will see in a film of this nature and tick all the boxes.

The more interesting question Love and Friendship throws up is the view you may take of Lady Susan. Her dalliance with Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin) exploitation of Sir James and her own daughter, whilst making sure her circumstances stay healthy and indeed wealthy could be the scheming of a wicked and downright unpleasant woman. Indeed, by any measure Lady Susan whilst charming and attractive is manipulative and self-centred but do you judge the character by 21st century standards (well some of us have these standards) or allow her to create a safe and supported world for her and her daughter in a world where women had to rely on family, charm and a man’s wealth? In a world with so little power can we really blame Lady Susan for enjoying the ‘best of both worlds’ and ensuring her future into her older years?

It’s a question only the individual viewer can really answer but whatever you view the journey Whit Stillman and his well-appointed cast take us down is certainly enjoyable and entertaining.  Hopefully, this will result in more cinema work for Tom Bennett please and better more interesting roles for Kate Beckinsale that do not involve cat-suits and CGI nonsense, I feel she deserves it and this film only strengthens that feeling.

Worth watching just to see a man discovering peas.

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