There’s little love or friendship in Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship, an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella. The story centers on Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a widowed Londoner of high society aiming to remarry and marry off her daughter (Morfydd Clark). After a fiasco with a married man, she settles in bucolic Churchill with her brother-in-law and his wife, setting her sights on her sister-in-law’s brother (Xavier Samuel). Love & Friendship is full of twists and turns and scandal. Like Stillman’s previous features it is a comedy of manners, its characters are vessels for the stylized, epigrammatic dialogue. Beckinsale shines as the conniving Lady Susan, expertly delivering her snarky lines, making us like and hate her simultaneously. Tom Bennett, who plays a dim but rich suitor, steals many a scene with his well-timed goofs about peas (he doesn’t know what they are), the pronunciation of places (he saw a church but no hill when he arrived at Churchill), and the number of commandments (there are twelve, according to him). Love & Friendship is a sumptuous film, with posh interiors, extravagant hair and makeup, and elegant costumes. Perhaps as a bow to Victorian manners, sex is visually missing from the movie, though it’s alluded to. As for Lady Susan’s interior life, well, that’s aired into the open when she visits, and gossips with, her American friend (Chloë Sevigny).
By Alec Julian & Carrie White