Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel
Genre: Comedy/ Drama
In 18th Century England, the seductive and manipulative Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale), a high-class widow, faces dwindling finances, threatening her status and life style. She decides to use devious tactics to win the heart of the eligible Reginald De Courcy (Samuel), but her plans are disrupted by the unexpected arrival of her daughter (Morfydd Clark).
In a similar way to that of famous West End shows, TV or film adaptions of Jane Austen novels tend to be re-hashed and re-done on a cyclical basis. Well, at least this time writer/ director Whit Stillman takes one of Austin’s lesser known novella’s (Lady Susan), but despite this there is still a genuine lack of freshness to the whole story. Having not read the source material I can of course not comment on either that or how much of it Stillman has changed, and though it certainly is an enjoyable and passably entertaining film, and it is undoubtedly made and acted made with an assured confidence. However, Love & Friendship is nowhere near funny or engaging enough to be any more than a forgettable and televisual middle-of-the-road period romp.
Indeed, all the initial ingredients are there for this to be an enjoyable period drama that can be watched and enjoyed by all. Whit Stillman certainly deserves credit for writing a script that certainly encapsulates plenty of adult themes, but it is subtle enough to keep the film at a Universal certificate. This is indeed refreshing that a writer/ director does not feel the need to resort to graphic language, sex or violence to tell his story, but unfortunately the result is what feels like an incredibly light and fluffy Sunday afternoon TV drama to watch while half asleep after eating a huge roast dinner with the family.
Visually Love & Friendship certainly looks the part, with wonderful set design and some great performances. Kate Beckinsale oozes charisma as the film’s protagonist, but for all her impressively intelligent schemes to use and manipulate people, Stillman’s script fails to make her character likeable. This unfortunately can then make the film incredibly infuriating as we are presented with a protagonist that we just want to see fail and get her comeuppance. The standout performers are however Justin Edwards and Tom Bennett who deliver great comic timing, while Morfydd Clark also excels as Susan’s slightly haphazard daughter. While Xavier Samuel is embarrassingly pathetic as Reginald De Courcy.
The plot itself is very episodic, with clear standout scenes, but then what holds them together certainly feels rather lame and like it was written to try and link the already written key scenes together. The comedy is even more clunky; there are admittedly some very funny lines from the supporting characters, but a lot of the supposed comic lines feel like punch lines that have been written first and then the dialogue for the rest of the scene written later, making the supposedly comic lines feel forced and unnatural, and therefore not particularly funny.
I would normally not bother writing a review of such light as a feather fluff, but on release Love & Friendship received consistently great reviews, and that is one of the reasons why I have felt compelled to write a review of it, as I truly fail to understand why it did get such high praise. Though just about watchable thanks mainly to its great visuals and some excellent performances, it is a highly forgettable piece of middle of the road fluff, all that is memorable is how incredibly unlikable its protagonist is.
Light, fluffy and silly nonsense; Love & Friendship is predominantly harmless and passable Sunday afternoon entertainment made for TV, but with a total lack of substance or actual genuine engagement.