With Kate Beckinsdale, Chloe Sevigny.
In Jane Austen’s world, strict economic rules apply. Women without an income must marry well to provide for themselves. Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, Persuasion, have as their main protagonists a single woman in search of a suitable match. She behaves nobly in contrast to her sisters who are often silly or ill suited to polite society.
Love and Friendship is adapted from an early Austen work and the heroine or the point of view shifts from a mother to her daughter midway through the story as it becomes increasingly clear how little the mother genuinely cares for anyone but herself.
But what a character she is! Lady Susan when we first meet her is fleeing an uncomfortable household arrangement (“We do not live, we visit,” she explains in one of her many astute asides about her penurious situation), where she has been fooling around with the host’s husband. Susan has attempted without success to get her daughter to marry a rich man who out-sillies the silliest of any Austen sister on record. Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) has so many comic lines stemming from his rank stupidity it felt a little incorrect to laugh after a while, as if you were laughing at someone who is mentally challenged in modern parlance, but you just can’t help it.
The dialogue sings in this movie, and all of the actors are up to its archness and clarity and intelligence (except the luckless Martin as mentioned above who struggles to remember what peas are). Mrs. Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), only slightly vulgar as the American in the story, has a complicated relationship with Lady Susan since her husband (the indispensable Stephen Fry as Mr. Johnson) is onto Susan’s wiles, and does not like his wife consorting with her.
Costumes and sets are splendid, as is the tone of the picture, which includes lead ins to the characters with some of Austen’s descriptions such as a man introduced as too handsome, or a bit simple, or in love with himself.
There is one very good and selfless man in the film, Susan’s brother in law, played by Justin Edwards, who arranges for most of the plot points to flow smoothly. Mostly the men are like the contestants on the dating game, will they or won’t they chose the suitable mate?
It is comforting to finish a Jane Austen novel because usually though not without major obstacles, virtue and decency prevail. This does not mean that Lady Susan loses. She may be manipulative, dishonest, and underhanded, but she is beautiful, and clever, and deserves to marry well.
Whit Stillman, please make more movies.