Jane Austen is a landmark of literature, with her books selling millions and being adapted over thirty times throughout their time. I sadly missed the newest (unofficial) adaptation earlier this year, Pride And Prejudice And Zombies, but here comes another Austen adaptation, Love And Friendship.
Love And Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel and Stephen Fry and is written and directed by Whit Stillman. Based on the short story Lady Susan by Jane Austen, the film follows Lady Susan (Beckinsale) as she tries to find a husband for herself and her daughter Frederica.
It’s rare that a film makes me smile from the very start. The opening of the film is just a credits roll, but just the way it was presented, with classical music playing in the background, it reminded me of the old English films from the 1940-50s, where they would present all of the cast before the film started. Love And Friendship is obviously tapping into that old style of filmmaking with its presentation.
However, the film has some wonderful post-modern additions, which supply a lot of the laughs in this romantic-comedy. Since the story is all about families and how they relate to each other, we get a family portrait of the characters, with their name and their role in the story, such as, Reginald De Courcy: A Young and Handsome Man. It’s almost a bit like Deadpool’s opening, where it cuts down the characters down to their stock types. The post modern influences keep coming, such as an extended sequence of reading a letter, punctuation and all, appearing on screen as text. Most of the jokes are these farcical moments, which have led the film to achieve a U certificate, since there is nothing rude, but it’s still bitingly funny.
Most of that comes down to the actors, who know how ridiculous the set up is and are relishing being able to chew the scenery with over-the-top performances. Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan shows off her ability as a comic performer, helming most of the jokes with perfect comedic timing.
The film feels almost like a play in many respects. There are only a few sets, the film containing the story to one manor house and then a few London streets. The original story was written in the form of letters, so it’s a big jump to move from that to a fully fleshed out story. It does take a while for the story to get going and understand what everyone’s role is, but it feels just like a classic Jane Austen work, with the themes, character and of course, ending with not one, but two weddings.
I did have a problem with the character drop at the beginning though. We are introduced to around four different families at the beginning, each with around four to five people in them and all intricately entwined with each other through marriages and siblings. I was confused for a good twenty minutes afterwards trying to figure out who is connected to who. It’s also a bit annoying that some characters, such as Stephen Fry’s Mr. Johnson are mentioned in the character drop but have about ninety seconds of screen time despite being mentioned as a main character.
The script might also be something that might throw off audiences. In the style of Austen, it’s all flowery dialogue, the type that uses forty words where ten would do fine. That’s part of the aesthetic, but some audiences members won’t get the jokes hidden beneath the heaps of “thou’s”, “thee’s” and “thy’s.”
In summary, Love And Friendship is an old school period piece that despite being over 200 years old is still incredibly funny. If you are a fan of Jane Austen you will love it, and if you’re everyone else, it’s a good recommendation.
Score: 7/10 Great performances and a witty script.