“Love and Friendship” is based on an unpublished 1790 novella called “Lady Susan” and written by Jane Austen (later author of Pride and Prejudice) when she was 18 years old.
Austen composed the story through a series of letters; in the movie the texts of these letters serve as the basis for long conversational expositions, thanks to screenwriter Whit Stillman. The action of the film takes place around 1790.
The lovely Kate Beckinsale plays Lady Susan Vernon, a youngish widow with a debutante-aged daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). As the movie opens, Lady Susan has written to announce her intent to visit Churchill, the home of her brother-in-law’s family. We soon hear the rumors that she had been forced to end her recent visit in the home of some friends, due to her flirtatious behavior. Though Lady Susan is stunningly beautiful, she has a reputation for bending men to her will. As her sister-in-law puts it, she’s “a genius” at understanding and manipulating men.
When Lady Susan arrives, brother-in-law Charles Vernon’s wife, Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell) steels herself for the long visit, trying to forget Susan’s past offenses against her. Frederica is in a boarding school to improve her education, so we don’t meet her until later. But visiting the household upon Lady Susan’s arrival is Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), Catherine’s brother. Susan takes to the younger man, perhaps as a challenge, seeing he was predisposed to outwit her and show her for the fraud she is. Instead he falls for her, much to the dismay of his aging parents (Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet).
Meanwhile, Frederica frets over her recently received proposal of marriage from Sir James Martin, a very silly and foolish man. She cannot abide him and yet her mother insists she consider marrying him for his quite substantial income. He arrives and entertains us all with his charm and total lack of wit: “He’s no Solomon,” they say.
The dialogue throughout the film is quick and sophisticated, making it occasionally hard to understand the undercurrents present in a scene. But it is quite funny. Lady Susan truly is incorrigible. Her dear American friend, Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) is a willing audience to whom Lady Susan tells all her schemes. Some of these involve Sir James and his income, and some are to ensure the company of a married gentleman who is devoted to her.
The Georgian era costumes and décor in this film are sumptuous. Ireland provided all the locations. The soundtrack is exquisite. And, of course, the dialogue is superb. The film is rated PG “for some thematic elements”. Jane Austen fans will be guffawing out loud and all others will be vastly entertained. Do see it!