Think ‘Jane Austen’ and several things probably spring to mind: GCSE English; Colin Firth’s damp thighs (down, ladies); smug types waxing lyrical about how funny she is. Then you probably yawn and go back to your Transporter box set (NB that reminds us, one day The Sloth will do a post dedicated solely to the genius that is The Stath). And with every Brit actor worth their salt having appeared in countless versions of Emma’s Pride and Sensibility, has the dainty Austen teacup not finally runneth over?
Love And Friendship is based on Austen’s novella Lady Susan. So OK, we don’t think that particular book has been filmed yet – one point to the filmmakers. It stars Kate Beckinsdale as the aforementioned Lady Susan Vernon, a glamorous, recently widowed social climber par excellence, whose flirtatious and gold-digging reputation precede her. In need of a new, rich husband to keep her in the manner she has become accustomed, Lady Susan has left her preferred London to visit her dead husband’s relations in their substantial country seat, in order to evaluate the local eligible talent. Unsurprisingly, the flurry of excitement she creates amongst the single men is not entirely shared by any women in the vicinity, not least as Susan is not just man-shopping for herself, but also for her young daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), whose declared intention of earning her own crust as a teacher is met with horror by her mother.
Like all of Jane Austen’s work, Lady Susan pokes sly, satirical humour at its characters from the outset, which features headshots of each of the cast of characters with appropriate digs, one man described as ‘A Bit Of A Rattle’. Loaded with wit, the script needs careful attention, Lady Susan in particular firing out superb, zinging one-liners, often to her best friend and confident Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), all delivered with an entirely straight face. This is the Austen that the literary-types love and rarely is it done so well. But Love And Friendship also has laugh out loud silliness, delivered splendidly by Tom Bennett as rich buffoon Sir James. Channelling the spirit of Hugh Laurie’s Prince Regent from Blackadder, Sir James bumbles and guffaws his way through this polite, clipped society in a series of hilarious scenes, culminating in his honking, gleeful bewilderment at encountering peas on his dinner plate.
Forget GCSE’s and thoughts of 27 Austen adaptations too many, Love and Friendship is an absolute treat. Smart, funny and a must-see.
UK release 27 May 2016