Writer-director Whit Stillman departs from the milieu of the contemporary New York upper crust that he so memorably explored in such films as Damsels in Distress, The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan for this sharp-tongued and riotously funny examination of 18th-century polite society. Adapting Jane Austen’s long-unpublished epistolary novella Lady Susan, Stillman creates a period piece whose spirit is unmistakably modern.
Love & Friendship revolves around the beautiful and cunning Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a recent widow who engineers all manner of wonderfully devious plots to bend the world to her will and land herself a wealthy new husband. Taking up residence at Churchill, her in-laws’ estate, she sets her sights on the dashing Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), and soon has him wrapped around her little finger. However, her plans are derailed when her beautiful daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) turns up at Churchill after being dismissed from boarding school. Fearing that Frederica will turn Reginald’s head, Lady Susan sets out to obtain her daughter a suitor of her own. Enter Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a well-meaning but witless older man who is utterly confounded by the fact that there is neither a church nor a hill at Churchill.
As brilliantly played by Beckinsale, Lady Susan possesses a confidence, audacity, and unapologetic dishonesty (“Facts are horrid things,” she laments after being caught in a lie) that paradoxically endow her with a winning charm, and make her an Austen heroine to rival Elizabeth Bennett and Emma Woodhouse. If you are looking for a smart, fun, and scruple-free romp, Love & Friendship is definitely your cup of tea.
“The funniest, most deliciously venomous Jane Austen movie ever made, and conclusive proof that, a) Kate Beckinsale has been seriously undervalued by the movies and, b) Whit Stillman is a major, distinctive talent.” (Kim Newman, Empire)
“Love & Friendship is easily the funniest movie Whit Stillman has ever made. His bristling screenplay—which shows shades of Noël Coward and Evelyn Waugh—has so many impeccable one-liners that it would take three or four viewings to catch them all.” (Nico Lang, Consequence of Sound)
“With his love of fine clothes and finer diction, Whit Stillman proves an unsurprisingly intuitive fit for Austen, but he also knows just how to give her pointed social satire an extra stab of wink-wink postmodern drollery without breaking the spell.” (Justin Chang, Variety)