Tuesday, 8 November 2016

Love and Friendship

Next year, the new £10 will begin circulating to join its new plastic £5 friend. This new note will bear the face of novelist Jane Austen, the legendary lady behind such seminal classics as Pride & Prejudice and Sense & Sensibility. When this news was announced, some were displeased. One hilariously small-minded comment in particular I remember was “why her? She just wrote shit love stories”. This comment is wrong on several levels, but it did make me think – some people are still oblivious to how versatile a lot of authors are, and Austen is no exception. As well as writing her ‘shit’ love stories, she wrote other things too – including, but not limited to, some great comedy.

One of her earliest works, Lady Susan, has been adapted to the screen in the form of Love & Friendship. Is it any good? Or is it, much like her love stories, ‘shit’?

First of all, the hilarious Love & Friendship is not a love story. While it does have elements of matchmaking, the film is not a romance – the matchmaking in the story is purely for purposes of our characters’ wealth and profit. We follow the recently-widowed wry and calculating Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) as she takes up temporary residence at her in-laws' estate and, while there, is determined to be a matchmaker for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) - and herself too, naturally. Unlike other Austen novels, Lady Susan is a story that has rarely been adapted for the screen – while her other works seem to get new adaptations every year. Director Whit Stillman discovered the story by accident and believed it was ‘too good not to be known’, citing its inaccessibility the prime reason for its lack of adaptations thus far. Rare in its genre, it is a sharp and biting comedy – not something Austen is particularly known for. A line in the film about a poet’s versatility seems somewhat relevant…

Frankly, this is the best Austen film I’ve ever seen. I’ve never considered myself a huge fan of her work – more of a Dickens fan myself – but this is a thinking man’s Austen. This isn’t straight-forward lovey-dovey nonsense, this is a hilarious story of a calculating and manipulative woman’s attempts to find wealth for herself. Kate Beckinsale is phenomenal in the role, and steals almost every scene she is in – it is Tom Bennett who steals the rest, whose gormless Sir James character is a priceless creation. Described perfectly by The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw as ‘the David Brent of Georgian England’, Bennett deserves an award for this hilarious performance. You’ll never look at peas the same way again… But hey, everyone is brilliant here. Chloë Sevigny is brilliant as American exile Alicia Johnson and Xavier Samuel is superb as the young Reginald DeCourcy – his character being the most Austen looking thing about this film.

But it’s the film’s visual elegance that makes it such an experience. Richard Van Oosterhout’s cinematography is utterly stunning, heightened by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s lavish costume design. Boy, am I glad this isn’t a video review…I can barely pronounce Chloë Sevigny. The film is a feast for the eyes, with every single frame a work of art. Seinfeld’s George Costanza said it best: “I say this with an unblemished record of staunch heterosexuality – it’s fabulous.” It truly is.

Love & Friendship is an unexpected marvel. Never one for expecting much from an Austen adaptation, I was blown away by this one. The entire cast were sublime, the writing excellent, the direction perfect and the visuals unforgettable. It’s not often a film can transport you back in time, but this one does – on two levels. Not only back in time to Georgian England, but even back in time to the time of golden age cinema. This is such a beautifully traditional film. Love & Friendship is a modern classic. 5/5


Sam Love

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