Based on a lesser-known fiction by Jane Austen titled Lady Susan, the film Love and Friendship stars Kate Beckinsale as an English lady who skilfully manoeuvres her way through high society to the admiration of most men and the apprehension of other women. Shortly after leaving her married lover in the city, Lady Susan Vernon deposits her teenaged daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) at a boarding school and moves into her sister-in-law’s house in the country. As she is recently widowed and has no money, Lady Susan sets on seducing eligible young heir Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel) while also trying to persuade Frederica to marry the rich, eager, but incredibly daft Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett). She faces opposition from her sister-in-law who is always civil but very much aware of Lady Susan’s reputation as a flirt and master manipulator. While trying to ensnare a husband and ensure her daughter’s future, Lady Susan has semi-covert rendezvous with her “divinely handsome” Lord Manwaring back in the city while also meeting with her American confidant Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny).
A fun little comedy of manners about the movement of men and women across the chessboard of polite British society (and where the queen is clearly Lady Susan), Love and Friendship is a major departure from the Austen classic Pride and Prejudice. Here, instead of a noble and unassuming young lady, the protagonist is an anti-heroine who is so charming that even in her selfishness and manipulations she wins over viewers with her style and brilliance. With her dishy bon mots, learned wisdom, and sharp wit, one can never really disagree with anything Lady Susan says (about things like the nature of parenthood and the role of women in that particular society and era) and thus she wins almost everyone over. Beckinsale proves herself to be just as accomplished as her character as she carries off the many faces of Lady Susan while still seeming genuine, singular, and likable. Bennett is also absolutely hilarious as Sir James Martin, the cheeriest and most oblivious dullard one could ever meet and the second source of pure enjoyment for viewers. Good, light entertainment for English lit majors.
Rating: 3.5 out of 5 plates of green peas