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Devious genius

Just when you thought the Jane Austen catalogue has been fully explored on film, a little gem like Love and Friendship emerges.

Based on her novella, Lady Susan, the film follows the exploits of anti-heroine widow Lady Susan Vernon, a “renowned flirt," as she gossips and connives her way through late 1700s English society.

The story line is straight forward: newly widowed Lady Susan Vernon is broke, and comes to stay temporarily at her in-laws' country estate. Upon arriving, she is determined to find a suitable match for her reluctant daughter, Frederica, while taking care of her own interests as well. Unfortunately for all who come up against her, she is not bound by the same moral compass as are others.

A period piece can be pretentious, but despite the era in which this story takes place, director Whit Stillman imbues the movie with a sense of fun. As the characters are introduced to us, they are staged together in groups with their names printed on the screen along with a defining characteristic statement about them.

For example, Sir James, a complete nitwit, is labelled as “a bit of a rattle.”   

Kate Beckinsale (Underworld, Pearl Harbor, The Aviator) is absolutely resplendent as Lady Susan and I believe this role delivers some of the best acting, which has been grossly underutilized.

Not only is she lovely and a costumer’s dream, but she also embodies some of the worst characteristics of the female gender. She is a woman we love to hate, and is the backbone of this film.

Lady Susan is an absolute genius at not only observing, but also anticipating and directing human behaviour to her own favour. When confronted with unequivocal evidence of her own wrong doing, she simply states “facts are such horrid things,” and briskly moves on.

She has one motive and one motive only – to secure the futures of herself and her daughter. As she comments on their present vulnerable status, “we don’t live, we visit” – a status she intends to change. We only find out at the end of the film just how brilliantly she achieves her goals.

Chloë Sevigny, as Alicia Johnson, is perfect as Lady Susan’s confidante who is always willing to lend a sympathetic ear, deliver notes and do what she can to further her machinations. 

Because her husband has forbidden her to have anything to do with Lady Susan lest she be shipped off to live in Connecticut, their clandestine meetings always have a furtive air.

As Lady Susan observes, he’s really nothing but a nuisance and hopes for his demise, “let’s hope his next gouty attack ends more favourably.”

Morfydd Clark is lovely as Frederica Vernon, Lady Susan’s innocent daughter; Emma Greenwell is excellent as Catherine DeCourcy Vernon, Lady Susan’s disapproving hostess; and Xavier Samuel is sincere and sweet as Reginald DeCourcy, a young, unsuspecting man, smitten by Lady Susan’s charms.

A special mention should also be made of Jenn Murray (Brooklyn), as the distraught Lady Lucy Manwaring whose husband has obviously been captivated by Lady Susan.

One of the brightest acting performances in the film comes from Tom Bennett, the lovable dolt of a suitor, Sir James Martin. Where has this actor been? His physical comedy, posturing as a man of means, and his idiotic smile are nothing short of brilliant.

It seems he has done a fair bit of improv and television roles. Major kudos to the director for letting him just play with the role because the scene with the peas definitely has an improvised feel. It would be worth seeing this film again just to watch him more closely.

Were it not for the impeccable casting and acting, this film could very easily have fallen flat because it depends largely upon the actions and reactions of its characters, but the dialogue is pure gold.

There was no greater observer of the human condition than Jane Austin, and co-screenplay writer Whit Stillman has served her words well.

Filled with beautiful sets, scenery and spectacular costumes, Love and Friendship does not disappoint visually, but it is the acting and sharp dialogue that makes this film a must see.

I give this film four and a half stars.

 

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About the Author

Kim Foreman-Rhindress is a graduate of the American Academy of Dramatic Arts in New York City and London Western Conservatory of music for piano and voice. 

Kim has been performing in theatre and film for over 30 years in Canada, NYC, Palm Beach, Los Angeles, and the Netherlands. She has written several plays which have been produced in Canada and the U.S., and is the founder of Kelowna Voice Lab - helping people find their voice, be it singing or acting. 

A working musician, she performs regularly in Kelowna with her husband, Jim Rhindress, in an acoustic duo Smitten, and with her vintage trio Kitsch 'n Sync.  



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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