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Sunday, May 29, 2016

Review of Love and Friendship

Love and Friendship, the film adaptation based on Jane Austen's novella, Lady Susan, was released in the UK this week.

 Unfortunately, the film is only showing in a handful of cinemas and for a very short period of time, which urged me to travel a long distance to catch a rare viewing of this long-awaited adaptation. 

As I mentioned in my earlier post, the film was directed and produced by Whit Stillman, the producer of Metropolitan (a modern remake of Mansfield Park). Having enjoyed Metropolitan, I had fairly high expectations for Love and Friendship, and I couldn't wait to see how Whit Stillman had managed to adapt the Georgian style epistolary novella onto big screen. 

Stillman's biggest challenge must have been the screenplay - how to to transfer the story, entirely written in letters, into well-flowing dialogue and narrative. I was pleased to see that the film has stayed faithful to the original story and very much responded to my own imagination of the characters, the setting and so on. The worst thing is to see a favourite novel changed dramatically when adapted onto screen, but this wasn't the case with Love and Friendship. 

The film correctly portrays Lady Susan (played by Kate Beckinsale), a widower, to be an attractive, charming and intelligent lady, whom we later discover to be a manipulative, selfish person with a lack of empathy for others - this is particularly shown in her interactions with her friend and confidante, Mrs Johnson (Chloe Sevigny). Overall, the film is very well cast, Beckinsale making a credible Lady Susan, perhaps thanks to the fact that she has previously played another less likeable Jane Austen character, Emma (1996), and is clearly quite comfortable with the lengthy, archaic dialogue. Lady Susan's young suitor, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), his parents (James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave) and Lady Susan's suppressed daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), all corresponded to the characters I had created in my mind while reading the novella. 

While there is very little scenery in the film, I enjoyed the period-style string music playing in the background, the beautiful Georgian interiors and exteriors and the shiny, silky costumes (which actually create a brushing sound as the actresses move around the room), not to mention the high Georgian hairdos with flowing curls. However, I thought that some of the male characters, perhaps, looked a little too modern, and should have had long hair tied up in a pig tail, like the Austen brothers did at the time. 

At the beginning, the characters are introduced posing and what Stillman calls "arch intertitles". There are several characters in the novel and this was probably done to make it easier for the viewers to follow the plot. I would have preferred it if the characters had been presented in a more "natural" way, as they were presented in Pride and Prejudice - a servant announcing their names, as they entered the room, for example. I also thought that the beginning of the film could have been a little more dynamic - I was actually looking forward to a more dramatic entrance of the main character, Lady Susan.

While the beginning is a little stiff in parts and had me yawning a few times (very unlike me during an Austen film!), the film does improve towards the end. The film clearly caters to a more learned, connoisseur audience rather than the general masses - being an independent film-maker, perhaps Stillman has not aimed at a wider distribution of the film, allowing him to take some interesting creative liberties. However, I would like to see the story popularised to make it known to the wider world, but this would require some simplification of the story, more dynamic changes of scene and some more theatrical characterisation. There are a few deja-vu characters typical of the Jane Austen adaptation, such as Frederica's suitor, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), who borders on the ridiculous in the style of Mr Collins (Pride and Prejudice), and the theatrical Mrs Manwaring (Jenn Murray). 

While the adaptation stays very faithful to the original, there are some very interesting twists to the story at the end, including an adulterous Lady Susan, clearly added in for entertainment value. I will not narrate the story or reveal the final twists at the moment as I don't want this review to be a spoiler. The film is very much centred around the brilliant dialogue and I would certainly recommend seeing it if you enjoy all of Jane Austen's works and yearn to see more. 


  1. A very nice review, Anna. I have just checked. The Curzon Cinema over the top of HMV Wimbledon are showing the film. I have got to read the novel and see the film.

    1. Glad you enjoyed it, Tony. You'll have to read it quickly as the film may not show that long at the cinemas. Luckily it's not a very long novel! Let me know what you think once you're done...

  2. Hi Anna. I went to see this film this afternoon in Wimbledon. I laughed out loud. I could feel tears coming to my eyes. Kate Beckinsale was extraordinary. I loved the way the whole film is obviously adoloscent Jane Austen trying to be grown up. The use of ,"big," words and grown up phrases are very evident.There is the running gag where, ( I acn't remeber the name of the character)is always saying that he must check the meaning of a word.I think that element added an extra layer of humour. I wonder what her father and mother thought of this story? Lady Susan is totally immoral, I thought amoral but definitely she is immoral. Her cruel manipulation of all the other characters is astoundingly funny. It is a must see for all Janites. I am just waiting for my copy of the book to arrive. Can't wait to read it. I hope you and the family are well? All the very best, Tony

    1. Glad you enjoyed the film, too! Like me you, I thought the dialogue for Sir James Martin was a brilliant comedy addition.

      My theory is (if you have read my analysis of the novel, link below) that Lady Susan was never published as Jane Austen was aware of how shocking the story would be to her family and friend circle and how it would have brought shame onto the family.

      A great book and amazing talent of an 18-year-old!! Here's a link to my blog about the book:

    2. I have just read your article Anna.It is very good. Did you study English literature at University? Of course Lady Susan is a narcissist. I agree about the possible reaction by the Austen familky to the immorality portrayed in Lady Susan. I wonder why she was permitted to keep it and not have it destroyed? AND, where did Jane Austens leud ideas come from? I think all Janites should read this book. It will change their view. In one of her letters about being short of money she makes a joke to Cassandra about being employed by a certain lady in Covent garden to help her with her finances. Of course the lady in question is a brothel keeper. Yes, I am wondering about Jane Austen now!!! Ha! Ha!

    3. Thanks very much, Tony! No, I failed to get onto an English lit course but did English Language and Linguistics haha!
      Despite the nature of her writing, Jane Austen was encouraged to write by her father (who bought her the writing slope as an encouragement) and she was allowed to keep all her juvenilia, which was all very burlesque. A lot of hidden naughty jokes, yes!
      I think all the lewd ideas must have come from her big brothers... they were always writing and performing plays and they must have had a massive influence on her at the time.

  3. Just reread your review Anna. I think the way the characters were introduced, posing with their name and some description about them labelled underneath, added to the adolescent, gauche nature of the whole piece.

    1. Perhaps you're right!! Did Stillman intend to show highlight story as a piece of juvenilia? Interesting.


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