I have found the perfect Sunday afternoon film, Love and Friendship, the comical adaptation of the novella, Lady Susan. Posters for the film were plastered all over the tube on my last trip to London and as soon as I got home to Australia I beelined for the cinema. Lady Susan is one of the few works of Jane Austen that I have never actually read, so it was a beautiful treat to enter the cinema completely unsure of what to expect. Given that Lady Susan is not a particularly well known work, I was anticipating Love and Friendship to be quite dull.
Love and Friendship may be a standard Regency period piece with pretty dresses, corsets and flouncy hats, but dull it definitely was not. This film unleashes the sharp wit and true sarcastic humour of Jane Austen, and it was laugh out loud funny. I have always considered Jane to be quite a rebel, all of her novels are social satire at its finest, but Love and Friendship is the most entertaining Austen film I have seen. It is visually classic, with a modern twist.
Kate Beckinsale plays the wickedly unscrupulous widow Lady Susan, a devious and scheming gold digger looking to secure herself a rich husband and find a beneficial match for her daughter, Frederica. As Lady Susan has been left without a home or fortune and must rely on the charity of her brother-in-law Charles Vernon and his young wife, Catherine DeCourcy, who invite Lady Susan and Frederica to live with them in their vast countryside estate, Churchill.
Lady Susan is beautiful and deliciously amoral, she sets her sights on the young and handsome, but gullible, Reginald De Courcy, preying on his good nature and using manipulative tactics that lead to a romantic tryst.
The story unfolds like a Shakespearian comedy with a cast of entangled theatrical characters. Reginald is infatuated with Lady Susan, while Lady Susan is conducting an illicit affair with a married man and trying to bait the wealthy Sir James Martin to marry her daughter Frederica. Yet Frederica has fallen in love with Reginald, but is unaware that he is secretly engaged to her mother. It’s like A Midsummer Night’s Dream without the magic and fairies, or perhaps more like Bold and the Beautiful with corsets and better dialogue. Either way, the twists and turns are entertaining.
Kate Beckinsale plays Lady Susan to perfection, she is an enigmatic seductress and the culmination of poise and poison simultaneously. Lady Susan is a highly unorthodox main character for Jane Austen and the style and tone of this film feels very modern. After reading Lady Susan, I realise that the producers and writers took more than a few creative liberties with the film, but merely magnified the essence of what was already simmering between the lines of the novella. As always, Jane Austen’s well mannered storylines must end happily ever after with marriages all round. Lady Susan is no exception, although this time around there are some funny quirks and unexpected matches!
One element that remains quite a mystery is why the film was entitled Love and Friendship, which is actually the name of another completely unrelated short story by Jane Austen. The original novella was simply called Lady Susan.
If you’d like a preview of Love and Friendship, the below trailer provides a little taste of Lady Susan.