Lady Susan Goes On A Quest For Love & Friendship
Love & Friendship takes a look at relationships among the rich in late 18th century England. Kate Beckinsale stars as Lady Susan Vernon, a young widow with a bit of a reputation. She has taken refuge in the home of her in-laws, Charles and Catherine Vernon (Justin Edwards and Emma Greenwell) following a hasty exit from another home. Her plans include ending her widowhood, as well as getting a husband for her young adult daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), a quiet person who aspires to be a teacher. During her time at the Vernon estate, she meets Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), the son of other friends of the Vernon family who has also come to visit. Lady Vernon, though, expresses interest the young man, who is confused, but polite about Susan's interest.
She has a different man in mind for Frederica. At a dinner, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a landowner of limited intellect. Frederica couldn't be less interested in such a man, though neither she nor anyone else criticizes his lack of knowledge. Nobody at the Vernons knows her end game, but she does share her intentions with Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), an American-born woman who's married to the much older Mr. Johnson (Stephen Fry) keeps promising to relocate them to Connecticut if he catches her associating with Susan. Lady Vernon does have a plan, though she doesn't share it until she deems the time has come to reveal what she wants. However, a tear filled Lucy Manwaring (Jenn Murray) wants the Vernons and their guests to know what happened when Lady Susan stayed at the Manwaring estate.
Love & Friendship is based on a short work entitled Lady Susan written by Jane Austen in the late eighteenth century. However, it remained unpublished until the author had been dead for more than a half century. Not only did director Whit Stillman write the screen adaptation, but he also wrote a novelization of the material from another point of view. The movie is an enjoyable look at life among the rich during the English Regency period. Everybody knows Lady Vernon has problems, but Lady Vernon remains resolute in solving them with a little ingenuity and the right man for her discriminating taste. Lady Susan has turned her pursuit into an art form, and she has little concern for whose feathers she ruffles. Stillman presents a fast-paced comedy of manners that could easily be adapted to life in the present day.
Beckinsale is delightful as the flirtatious and opinionated Lady Susan. She shows she has a style that grabs the attention of men, and she loves to she how far her flirting takes her. She often captures the Vernons and their visitors dumbstruck as they wonder what she plans to do next. Though they never say, they wish Lady Susan would keep her visit brief. Sevigny also shines as Alicia, who doesn't enjoy Mr. Johnson's constraints on her, for he tries to make her miss Susan and her exploits. Lady Susan's pursuits, to Alicia, are a diversion from a rather ordinary existence. Bennett is a scene stealer as Sir James, who has more wealth than he has brains. At a dinner, Reginald politely explains to him what peas are, and offers a hand if Martin should want to plant this vegetable on his land. I also liked Samuel and Clark in support as people who observe Lady Susan, and wish to never follow her ways.
Love & Friendship tells the tale of a woman to whom the concepts in the title seem a bit foreign. Lady Susan Vernon believes in living her life to the fullest, but others worry about how full of a life she wishes to live. Lady Vernon has a goal, but she refuses to lay out her plan and its most questionable elements. All that matters to her is that she find the man who will let her fulfill her needs, and let everybody else say what they will.
On a scale of zero to four stars, I give Love & Friendship 3.5 stars. Lady is in her name, like it or not.