Love & Friendship (2016)

Love & Friendship gives the supremely talented Kate Beckinsale a lead role that isn’t a vampire, and doesn’t require her to battle werewolves while clad in black, latex dominatrix gear a well-compensating task which she’s been doing for almost a decade and half (Yes, thirteen years). The film chronicles the efforts of the recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon to get herself back into the comfort of the upper class by finding husbands for her and her daughter. Typical stuff, so far…

Whit Stillman’s film is based on Lady Susan, a posthumously published early epistolary novella by Jane Austen. Love & Friendship places us directly in the headspace of Beckinsale’s cunning Lady Susan who sees people as little more than pawns. It’s an uncompromising and interesting slant that is as distressing as it is quaint. Though, unlike more sincere adaptations of novels-of-manners it is also a bit duller even if it moves much more quickly. It’s a pushy barrage, like Aaron Sorkin in period England dress.

The title of the comedic adaptation may be Love & Friendship, but while both are certainly present in the film, the more negative qualities of humanity take precedence: deception, manipulation, even utter disgust. Underneath its elegant period-piece exterior—most obviously evident in Esdraffo’s score and Matthew’s art direction—lies a darker vision of humanity that gives the film more of an ironic kick than one might have anticipated from the outset. Even the inspired character introductions and words plastered on screen are more like Quentin Tarantino than anything in a previous adaptation of Austen’s work.

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