Review by Leslie Byron [email protected]
When you see the words Jane Austin Adaptation, it’s hard not to think of direct Whit Stillman. In fact, it’s surprising that we’d not seen a Stillman interpretation of Austin’s work until now. The writer-director’s particular brand of waspy angst, snappy quips and social mores fall pretty comfortably into Austin’s work with ease. After the rather disappointing Damsels in Distress, which had the filmmaker making no real leaps from his past works. Love and Friendship; adapted from Austin’s Lady Susan, may have Stillman actually delving into a period work of Austin’s as opposed to riffing on them in more contemporary eras. The result is a somewhat return to form.
Don’t expect too much high drama or conflict from Love and Friendship. Indeed, while such agitations have never really been what Stillman has been about, he still managed to capture the tense and uncertain feelings of youthful relationships blend them with cultural clashes with a certain amount of ease. In Love and Friendship, there’s a certain air of comfort as Stillman is again directing Kate Beckinsale (The Last Days of Disco). This time, Beckinsale plays the flirtatious and scheming Lady Susan, who looks to set up her daughter with the dim-witted Sir James to ensure her fortunes are kept affluent. As you’d expect from such a period piece, this is more about wordy retorts and plays on income and privilege. So far, so Stillman, as once again we’re landed in a group of well-off social group who are giddily wrapped up in their own usage of manners, poise and prose.
It must be said that while Stillman is really having fun with the period and his cast (Beckinsale is in top form here), what made Stillman’s so-called “Doomed-Bourgeois-in-Love” series so appealing, was how they were able to draw a viewer closer to the film’s worlds and of course their characters. Love and Friendship is far funnier than Damsels in Distress, yet it doesn’t hold the same emotive appeal which invoked his earlier work. This shouldn’t stop Austin completists from getting involved with Stillman’s breezy adaptation, if only for the wonderfully mannered performance of Kate Beckinsale, who takes control of every scene with aplomb and agency. Love and Friendship may not be the most connective of Stillman’s work, but those who are down with what make Austin tick (capable, strong minded women), should certainly find something worth watching here.
Extra: Slim pickings here. A ten-minute making-of and a trailer. If you’re looking for more detail on Stillman, you’d be better off obtaining the Region 1 Criterion Collection of his first three films for any extended learning.
Love and Friendship is out on Blu-ray 26th September