There is always familiarity with Jane Austen. Whether it be the novels, BBC mini-series, modernised movies, the various webseries adapatations, or even Pride and Prejudice and Zombies there are always common factors – relationships between women, early feminism, sweeping romances, and quite often Regency clothing. Love and Friendship, the film adaptation of Austen’s Lady Susan has all of this, and yet is still a fresh and unfamiliar take on what should be old hat.
Love and Friendship, written and directed by Whit Stillman and starring Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan definitely feels like an Austen novel. The soundtrack is decidedly era-specific, with fanciful locations to compliment long tracking shots and a dazzling colour palette. The costumes are fittingly gorgeous, and the plot centres around women getting married. So what’s different?
Lady Susan. Lady Susan is what’s different. Recently widowed and out of fortune, she travels to brother-in-law’s house seeking a wealthy husband for herself and for her daughter, setting her sights on her sister-in-law’s wealthy younger brother Reginald, Australian ex-Twilight bit-player Xavier Samuel. This is not a romantic union – Lady Susan is a renown flirt merely seeking a wealthy match while carrying on affairs with married men. Beckinsale carries the sharp-tounged and often vicious humour superbly, and it is the crassness of the script juxtaposed against the otherwise typically regal Austen mise en scéne that really sells the hilarity.
The script is an absolute laugh factory – at one point Lady Susan comments to her equally vicious American friend, Chlöe Sevigny’s Mrs Johnson, that she hopes Stephen Fry’s Mr Johnson’s “next gout attack end more favourably”, as in with his death. The men of the film are rather dim, a stark contrast to Lady Susan’s rather open wit and manipulative tactics. Sir James Martin, Lady Susan’s intended husband for her daughter is perhaps the most maligned of the men, and riotously so.
The overall tone of the films is darkly funny – Lady Susan’s dark manipulation of the other characters has her coming out second best to the sweeter, more typically Austen characters. Our anti-hero ends the film without any particular success, yet she is not punished for her behaviour that was not era-appropriate. Many adaptations remain faithful to their text by projecting the same societal values held in the original, particularly regarding things such as female power or promiscuity as negative traits, something which Love and Friendship does not condemn Lady Susan for. Her character is left free to say and do awful things without it being considered a plight of women, something that separates it from its genre.