By Adam Ray Palmer
Today’s review comes courtesy, and elegantly, of Love & Friendship. Whit Stillman directs this period-comedy-drama which is based on Jane Austen’s novella ‘Lady Susan’.
Love & Friendship is helmed by almost an all-British ensemble including Kate Beckinsale, Stephen Fry, and Tom Bennett. Starring opposite Kate is the American starlet Chloë Sevigny.
This movie is Stillman’s first foray into period dramas so it’s a pretty big ask with many critics citing this film as a much needed comeback for Beckinsale. I sat down in the Phoenix screening with high hopes for Kate…
Love & Friendship follows a few different families as the co-habit alongside each other through various relationships. Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) takes up temporary residence at her in-laws' estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica -- and herself too, naturally.
Stillman’s adaptation from Jane Austen’s novella is the first of its kind in terms of ‘Lady Susan’. The book has never been adapted before, and after seeing Love & Friendship, I can see why. The narrative is quite basic and uninspiring, but also limited. The film’s runtime is only 90 minutes but I fear if it was any longer, it would have bordered on utter drivel.
On the flip side, the cinematography is beautiful - as you would expect; but that masks the fact that the film has actually got very little going on. Love & Friendship’s plot relies heavily on back and forth witty quips between central characters to tell a story that could easily find a home in a Woman’s Weekly magazine.
There are quite a few positives though. The cinematography, shooting locations and the period costumes are all impressive. So too are Kate Beckinsale and Tom Bennett as the loveable rogues. Kate’s Lady Susan is like a storm in a teacup who politely insults everyone (if that is at all possible) and Tom’s idiotic Sir James Martin is a scene stealer with every sequence he is in. The pair are aided by great dialogue which certainly helps the script. If it wasn’t for the intelligent quips and jokes, this movie would fall completely flat.
Whilst watching Love & Friendship, I couldn’t help but think Stillman had so little to work with and that it was always going to be too difficult to pull off. I was enticed by the comedic twist to a Jane Austen tale as many other movie-goers will be, but beyond that, there’s very little to enjoy.
I feel sorry for Kate, she has had some rotten luck with parts before and in Love & Friendship; she is actually the best element. She’s funny, strangely connectable and a leader when the film is screaming out for one. She is technically very good, and this time, the picture lets her down.
Personally, I would have adapted ‘Lady Susan’ and added some extra fabricated plot lines to make it more interesting. I would have ‘loosely based’ it on ‘Lady Susan’. By following Austen’s lead, you’re limited to what you can do; and evidently, it delivers a luke-warm script.
This film is the definition of mixed reactions. I can see some people loving it yet also absolutely loathing it - I am somewhere in the middle. I admire the performances and the misc-en-scene, but the narrative is just too plain. To be fair, the Phoenix screening I attended was packed so it must float some peoples’ boats. Sadly, for my yacht, it sank thirty minutes in.
Cineroom’s Rating: 2 Stars
Lover & Friendship is currently showing at the Phoenix Leicester until 9th June with a limited release around the UK – certificate PG