Drawing room genres, as in “Downton Abbey” have never appealed to me much. And rom-coms (romantic comedy) leave me cold – maybe this says more about me than the genre. So, if you love 18th century Jane Austen films – take this review with a grain of salt! I found sitting through LOVE & FRIENDSHIP to be an agonising experience.
Adapted from Jane Austen’s novella, LADY SUSAN, the film follows Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), recently widowed and who seems to travel the countryside, “freeloading” on her friends and in-laws, with the aim of finding husbands for both herself and her not-so-loved mousy daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan represents a much more feisty and independent woman than we usually see in such period films. Almost every word that comes out of Lady Susan’s mouth contains an element of bitterness, sharp wit, and a refusal to adhere to the gender norms of her time.
Beckinsale gets wonderful support from Chloë Sevigny, as her American friend, Alicia Johnson, who shares Susan’s destructive view of mankind, and who is regularly threatened by her well-to-do but much older husband (Stephen Fry) to be shipped back to Connecticut.
As they hatch their plan to control and manipulate the men around them, the film sinks further into silliness and huge amounts of dialogue that are difficult to understand at times as the characters speak so fast that a lot of the conversations are missed… (maybe my hearing?)
Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a supremely silly and ridiculously happy gentleman is a suitor that no one wants! Always at a loss for words while simultaneously unafraid to babble on and on, his appearances are scene-stealers. Australian actor Xavier Samuel (from The Twilight Saga) plays Reginald DeCourcy – a nice, clean, well-educated, naïve and susceptible to Susan’s advances kind of guy who is also a target of Frederica’s disdain.
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We’re shown loving candlelit period detail, beautiful clothes, gorgeous wigs, exquisite estates and furnishings, but the story was somewhat boring – not much happened. Perhaps it would be better in a stage adaptation, but for me the film simply didn’t work.
It was amusing but in a somewhat slapstick way – nothing to truly invest you in the story or characters, or hope for any kind of outcome. As a whole, it was nice to look at – but way too much dialogue for such little depth.
It is also mistitled; it should have been called “Deceit and Manipulation”.