It is rare when a filmmaker successfully captures the tone and personality of an author in a movie adaptation, particularly when that author is the inimitable Jane Austen. Austen’s playful humor and unnerving perception into human behavior are enjoying their most recent success in a beautiful translation of Lady Susan, renamed Love & Friendship on the silver screen.
Haven’t heard of the film? Love & Friendship is arguably this spring’s best film, with a 99 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes. While it had a limited release, it remains playing today in metro areas across the U.S., and it will be released for DVD and digital viewing this fall. Here's why you should put it on your must-watch list.
01. It’s been a while since Monty.
Everything from the intimate subtlety of the acting to the abrupt scene transitions—which brought to mind Monty Python’s comedic genius—breathe authenticity into Austen’s underrated and rather dark novel. Whit Stillman’s film happily leaves the source of most of its humor in the wit of Austen’s dialogue and the cast’s substantial and discreet acting abilities.
02. This is not just another Austen tale.
All of Austen’s works include a certain exploration into characters both willfully silly and malignantly devious. Love & Friendship is a sharp departure for Austen, as the story is told from the perspective of the narcissistic antagonist, with the other characters appearing to whirl in the chaos she creates like helpless planets around a sun. The enticing anti-hero Lady Susan is a merry widow known for her scandalous affairs, vicious gossip, and mesmerizing charisma. Kate Beckinsale demonstrates an incredible command in the role. Lady Susan is a character who easily could be turned into a overwhelming scenery-chewer. Instead, Beckinsale plays it with sociopathic confidence and likability, allowing lip curls of disdain and dismissive micro-gestures to reveal most of the character’s vicious internal thoughts.
03. Austen captures human frailty like no other.
What I found striking about both Austen’s novel and Stillman’s breezy interpretation is that both storytellers understand how captivating a twisted and self-centered personality can be—not to mention the frenzy they leave in their wake. I would even venture to say that Austen has captured a true narcissist in Lady Susan—an unexpected boldness, often amusing self-interest, and disregard for social norms. Lady Susan is a woman who keeps you on edge.
The human elements that Love & Friendship manages to convey so well are both the initial charm and exciting surprise of a pathologically selfish person—and the ultimate fallout for those who must deal with the havoc she creates. As we watch Lady Susan go to great lengths to secure both her daughter's and her own place in society with wealthy marriages, her shameless scheming and manipulation never ends. Lady Susan nearly causes another couple to divorce and makes no qualms about pursuing one of her daughter's suitors for herself. The story's slow reveal captures both the allure of the manipulative person as you first get to know them, but as the film progresses, also the fuller picture of the natural destruction left in their wake.
04. Getting theirs is half the fun.
A character doesn't have to be a hero in order to be enjoyable to watch. And that's exactly what we see with Lady Susan.
Each character manages the puzzle of Lady Susan’s pseudo-reality in different ways: the earnest and obedient daughter held under her heel, the sincere young man in love with the attractive and empty image projected, the equally conniving but less clever frenemy, the simpleton so painfully gullible and vain that awareness never comes, and the suspicious in the outer circle trying to protect the innocent, frustrated that their observations are dismissed as uncharitable. Lady Susan’s success in deceiving those so honest they can scarcely comprehend such elaborate fraud makes her appear all-powerful. That is, until the grand joke of the entire narrative style is revealed. Lady Susan is the same type of preposterous Austen society villainess as Caroline Bingley, Lucy Steele, and Mary Crawford.
The level of injustice and destruction that accompanies Lady Susan's glib carelessness creates agitation as the story builds. But this being an Austen story, the reversal is satisfying and humorous as all characters earn their own gentle rewards or punishments.
Photo Credit: Amazon Studios / Roadside Attractions