Marital Arrangements -or- Why Can’t Husbands Be Like Furniture? (Film Review: “Love & Friendship”)

A lesser known Austen comedy of manners is stingingly adapted to the screen, making a mockery of marriage in aristocratic Georgian England. Watch out, those verbal barbs are sharp!

 

SnapShot Plot

It was probably inevitable that writer/director Whit Stillman, the closest thing to a modern-day cross between George Bernard Shaw and Jane Austen, should tackle the latter in an adaptation of her epistolary novella, Lady Susan, here entitled, Love & Friendship

Kate Beckinsale (divinely) leads an all-star cast as the charming schemer Lady Susan Vernon, a man-eating manipulator out to marry off her sweetnatured daughter, Frederica while ideally nabbing a second husband/benefactor for herself. As she insinuates herself in and around the well-to-do in-laws with whom she stays for protracted visits, Lady Susan succeeds in wrapping most of the men around her little finger, to the horror and consternation of their wives, mothers and sisters. Her narcissism knows no bounds, yet in her mellifluous self-indulgent commentary, one can see how magnetic is this lady’s charm. Throughout her ruthless conniving, Susan somehow manages to convincingly pull off the role of the loving/protective mother, confiding her manipulations only to her American friend, Alicia Johnson, whose stern husband has threatened with exile back to Connecticut unless she breaks off her alliance with Susan. Alicia (played by Whit Stillman’s favorite actress, friend and muse, Chloë Sevigny) is a malicious co-conspirator who readily agrees that the sooner her elderly husband kicks the bucket, the better. And in a running gag, she makes no effort to correct Lady Susan’s expressions of horror at the prospect of being returned to the wilds of Connecticut: “You’ll be tarred and feathered!” or “You’ll be scalped!”

Of course, things don’t turn out exactly as planned (they never do) but suffice it to say that Lady Susan will always land on her feet, no matter whose neck she has to trample in the process.

 

“May his next gout attack be a severe one”

Parting Shot

Whit Stillman has been poking erudite fun at over-educated, pedigreed and privileged trust-fund babies and Waspy intellectuals for decades in film, in a repertoire that includes Barcelona, Metropolitan, and The Last Days of Disco. So why not the self-absorbed and often silly Regency gentry lambasted in all of Austen’s work but especially here in this late-published novella clocking in at a scant 80 pages? His screenplay crackles with sardonic humor and one can only hope that the novelist herself would approve of his biting treatment of her flawed characters while still bestowing on them a sympathetic hope for happiness.

Love & Friendship is presently streaming on Amazon Prime.

Here’s an informative featurette on the making of Love & Friendship:

YouTube Trailer Courtesy of:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XSMNHKqrCOo

YouTube Featurette, Behind-the-Scenes on Love & Friendship: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MMjST4w43K4

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