When you think Jane Austen, you probably think Pride & Prejudice, Sense & Sensibility, Emma or maybe Mansfield Park but it is unlikely that you think Lady Susan, until now. Love & Friendship is based on a short novel (Lady Susan) written by Austen but was not published till over 50 years after her death, it follows a much different atmosphere to Austen’s most famous work while still fitting into the same arena. Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is a woman who loves to scheme and plot to get what she wants, which is generally the most attractive man within a 10 mile radius and pays little attention to other people’s opinions. Also starring: Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Tom Bennett, Jenn Murray, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Jemma Redgrave and James Fleet.
You generally won’t find Kate Beckinsale taking part in films that find themselves on the tops of lists for whichever year they may be released (with the exception of The Aviator), being best known for Underworld but she is extremely well suited for the part of Lady Susan. Her portrayal of one of the most unscrupulous and self-serving characters to grace the big screen is good enough that it starts to make you dislike her, she may be our protagonist but she is a defiantly hard woman to like and Beckinsale plays that up to a tee. Her delivery of some of the most devious dialogue you’ll hear is perfectly timed and said with such belief in it being perfectly reasonable, it makes it even better. Although the advertising very much leans on the inclusion of Chloe Sevigny, her role feels somewhat minimal and her involvement appears more as a person for Beckinsale’s character to reveal her deceitful actions to, than someone with a real role to play. Whereas Xavier Samuel as Reginald Decourcy, Lady Susan’s love interest, takes much more of a principal role and does well, although his performance remains at a generally satisfactory level and not getting much further. Then there’s Tom Bennett, which with that name he should have gotten into period dramas much sooner, his usual awkward and slightly irritating (but in a good way) charm that you may have seen in Phone Shop or the much underappreciated and short lived series Family Tree, fits right into the film without hesitation and he provides his fair share of the comedic moments throughout. The only real weak link being Lochlann O’Mearáin who as, Lady Susan’s…married friend, Lord Manwaring could have been removed entirely as his part makes much more sense on the page than in the film because there’s little need for him to be physically present, and has non-existent dialogue, so his occasional silent appearance on screen feels somewhat out of place.
The film follows a similar pattern to other period dramas with love interests and social decorum but adding that essence of deceitfulness and dry wit, with some very sharp words, as well as a much more relaxed attitude towards things like adultery, it makes the film something unique. The humour is not constant and allows for the normal serious tone to still be present, as well as the costumes and sets being impressive and definitely fit into the period they’re trying to show audiences. Using several different locations keeps the pace moving better than if it remained in one but it still has slight lulls at various moments. It’s also a shame that there’s not a slight edge of the quirkiness that director Whit Stillman brought to his previous film Damsels in Distress, but it’s possible that would have been out of place in this genre.
The film is still first and foremost a period drama, with plenty of romance but it’s looking at it in a completely different way, which may feel more relatable to a modern audience, and considering the novella was written in the late 1700s is quite remarkable. The moments of comedy are well done and it’s simply a shame they’re not more liberally spread throughout. There are some great characters, and Lady Susan herself is something to behold but it still feels like this will mostly appeal to fans of the genre already, although they won’t be disappointed.