Magazine article Variety

Love & Friendship

Magazine article Variety

Love & Friendship

Article excerpt

Love & Friendship

DIRECTOR: Whit Stillman

STARRING: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel

"He's very silly, but he has a charm of a kind?' "He's lively; he brings a new angle to things." The man being described is an extremely foolish if conveniently wealthy 18th-century gentleman by the name of Sir James Martin, but the kind words might just as well apply - without a hint of euphemism, and with far more honest approbation - to the director of "Love & Friendship," a supremely elegant and delicately filigreed adaptation of Jane Austen's epistolary novella "Lady Susan." With his love of fine clothes and finer diction, Whit Stillman proves an unsurprisingly intuitive fit for Austen, but he also knows how to give her pointed social satire an extra stab of wink-wink postmodern drollery without breaking the spell. Starring Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan, the most irresistibly devious of Austen protagonists, this inspired marriage of two distinctive stylists should become a delectable arthouse/ VOD draw for Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios.

"Lady Susan" was written early in Austen's career, but published posthumously in 1871, and "Love & Friendship" refers to the source material as "unfinished." To the possible chagrin of Austen purists (though with "Pride & Prejudice & Zombies" around the corner, they probably have bigger fish to fry), Stillman has not only completed the story in his own way but also adapted the work with a free hand, granting breezy yet full-bodied shape to scenes and incidents that Austen mainly described through a series of variably reliable narrators.

Certainly the more casual Austen buff may be surprised to encounter, in Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), the sort of duplicitous and diabolically selfinterested heroine who seems not to have sprung from the same pen as Lizzie Bennet and Emma Woodhouse. Beautiful, sophisticated and recently widowed, Lady Susan is an inveterate schemer. Her sister-in-law, Mrs. Catherine Vernon (Emma Greenwell), alone seems to see through the woman's pleasing manners and the unfailingly seductive effect they have on the men in her midst. And so she's immediately suspicious when Lady Susan decides to pay an extended visit to her and her husband, Mr. Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards), at their countryside estate of Churchill. There, not coincidentally, she has a mutually charming first encounter with Catherine's handsome and eligible younger brother, Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel).

As Lady Susan describes in her regular visits to her similarly duplicitous best friend, Mrs. Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), she's determined to secure her financial future by marrying Reginald. But her plans are waylaid by the arrival of her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who has run away from school, and who clearly lives in fear of the mother who has never shown her honest affection. …

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