Amazon Studios/Roadside Attractions
Reviewed by: Harvey Karten, Shockya
Grade: B
Director:  Whit Stillman
Written by: Whit Stillman based on Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan”
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave
Screened at: Review 1, NYC, 3/31/16
Opens: May 13, 2016

A century from now, Americans will say, “Would you believe it?  Back in the 20th century and long before that, a man could not marry a man nor could a woman have a troth with another of her gender.”  Happily, our country continues a leftward movement no matter what Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz say.  Furthermore, we think of England as a progressive enough place compared to certain segments in the Middle East.  Yet it was not until 1870 that a woman upon marriage could dispose of her own property, nor could she inherit her husband’s land at his demise.  This situation was anathema to Jane Austen, who could not even publish under her own name during her lifetime.  Born in 1780, she wrote an epistolary novella “Lady Susan” at the age of 15 in 1794, which was not published until 1871, and now, thanks to the cinematic skills of writer-director Whit Stillman—whose “Metropolitan” in 1990 deals with a group of upper-income Manhattanites passing through the debutante season—we have a freely translated “Love & Friendship” which punctuates Jane Austen’s satiric thrusts at the society of her time.

As Austen’s comedy of manners proceeds on the big screen, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is a comely widow of about 35 who now has no money and no husband, but being of the manipulative persuasion, she works her wiles on gaining herself a man with money while at the same time plotting to ensure a comfortable marriage for her young and shy daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark—don’t you love those Welsh names?).  For herself, Susan has her eye on a young, handsome, and rich bachelor Reginald De Courcey (Xavier Samuel), who courts her—or rather she courts him—via walks in through the estate in Churchill.

Meanwhile young Frederica is pursued by an even richer fellow, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), who notwithstanding Ms. Beckinsale’s on-the-button role as the principal conversationalist, steals the job with his idiotic comments. Lady Susan wants her teen daughter to tie the knot with James, but Frederica, who notes that she would probably like the fellow if he were a cousin or uncle, simply cannot abide the thought of marrying him.  Those present in the room when Sir James speaks or sitting with him for dinner cast bemused and amused faces, which director Stillman projects subtly to the movie audience.

We get more than a fair inkling of Lady Susan’s manipulations as she does the most talking, whether crediting herself with attributes that she may or may not have, or being truthful in casting blame on the society for leaving her without the comfort and status she thinks she deserves.

Going against the film is the large number of characters, which may confuse the audience until at some point insights take shape.  It’s clear from the beginning that “Love & Friendship” is graced with superior actors and the kind of rich conversation that our own attention-deficit society may find too verbose.  The locations, all filmed by Richard van Oosterhout in Ireland, are sumptuous, the rooms giving habitation not only to society but to perhaps dozens of servants who follow every move of their employers, opening and closing doors and in some cases listening in for the chance to hear of scandals.

The most humorous scandal appears near the conclusion with a comment by the “blockhead” Sir James, whose boasts about his upcoming fatherhood are reacted to with astonishment by his listeners, who think that now they’ve heard everything.  The soundtrack features some of the best music you’ll hear this year (by Benjamin Esdraffo) that come out of the Baroque style.  The King’s English is spoken throughout and in a subtle bit of comic playfulness is occasionally written onto the middle of the screen like a classy package of subtitles.

Unrated.  92 minutes.  © Harvey Karten, Member, New York Film Critics Online

Story – A-
Acting – B
Technical – B+
Overall – B

Ross McDonnell

By Harvey Karten

Harvey Karten is the founder of the The New York Film Critics Online (NYFCO) an organization composed of Internet film critics based in New York City. The group meets once a year, in December, for voting on its annual NYFCO Awards.

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