Books · Film & Television

Movie Review: ‘Love & Friendship’ — Jane Austen Addresses Marriage and Mothers

The radiant Kate Beckinsale shines as Lady Susan. Twenty years ago, Beckinsale was enchanting, if misguided, as the lead in A&E’s Emma. Previously, she was a sweet Hero in the Kenneth Branagh/Emma Thompson Much Ado About Nothing.  But, for the past several years she’s been best known for her role as the leather-clad Hungarian vampire/huntress/warrior Selene in the Underworld series. It’s marvelous to see her as a mortal woman again and back in a period piece. As Lady Susan, she flirts shamelessly, holds court majestically, and plots her next moves like a Madame Machiavelli. She’s absolutely horrible to her daughter and wouldn’t be particularly likeable at all if she weren’t invariably the smartest, funniest, and most charming person in the room.

Young Morfydd Clark, who was Georgiana Darcy is the recent Austen send-up Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, plays Susan’s unfortunate daughter. As Frederica, she is wide-eyed and flighty, but firm when it comes to her refusal to wed Sir James. As that (temporarily) disappointed suitor, Tom Bennett is nothing short of hilarious, a perpetually good-natured, utterly imbecilic chatterbox. Emma Greenwall and Jemma Redgrave (yes, one of those Redgraves) are also strong as Catherine Vernon and her mother Lady DeCourcy. And, two of my all-time favorite Brits, Stephen Fry and James Fleet, round out the excellent ensemble cast.

The only weak link for me was Chloë Sevigny as Lady Susan’s friend Alicia. Sevigny is a rather unusual actress (and long-time Indie sweetheart). Over the years, I’ve enjoyed her work in HBO’s Big Love and last season’s American Horror, but she doesn’t seem comfortable with her role here. She’s fine as Lady Susan’s accomplice — especially when they discuss her husband, who is “too old to control and too young to die” — but their scenes together could have been quicker and wittier were she up to the snuff of the rest of the players.

RELATED: The ‘Real’ Women of Independent Films

But, there is far more to commend than to criticize. In addition to the mostly top-rate performances and the very clever script, Love & Friendship offers all the trappings that we love so much in period drama. There are sumptuous costumes, picturesque locations, and enough liveried servants to satisfy anyone still mourning the end of Downton Abbey.

Love & Friendship is a little drier and sharper than other recent Austen adaptations. Stakes seem higher (especially for poor Frederica), there is less overall silliness, and you may find yourself rooting for the story’s villain. Lady Susan is never really taken to task for all her bad behavior. But, that’s all right. By the end of this enjoyable movie, she earns a sort of happy ending by thoroughly delighting us with her abundance of wit and dearth of conscience.

Start the conversation

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.