Bringing Jane Austen to the big screen has always been something of a challenge in the world of film. When packaged up as a period-drama on the BBC, Austen’s works have always provided plenty of material for TV. But in the world of cinema, the combination of a veritably vexing vocabulary and tightly-wound social interactions could easily miss the mark. Austen’s work, like Shakespeare, has (on occasion) been hard work to keep up with.
But not so in ‘Love And Friendship’. Speaking as a fan of Austen-esque movies, never before have I seen an adaptation of Austen’s work as accessible as this. Not only is our protagonist Lady Susan Vernon a delightfully progressive anti-heroine, she is blisteringly quick-witted and outrageously mischievous for her time. For a character bestowed with very few redeeming features, it’s Kate Beckinsale’s triumph that Lady Susan could easily go down as one of our favourites in films based on Austen’s works. One by one, as each character falls victim to Lady Susan’s wiles with politely-impolite retorts, we are reminded that Austen is certainly one of the cleverest and cunning writers of her time.
At 92 minutes long, ‘Love and Friendship’ never drags – as the mischief and misunderstandings snowball, there’s social perplexity enough to make Ricky Gervais’ David Brent proud. Director Whit Stillman helps us speed things along by dispensing with the who-is-who-and-how-are-they-related by introducing each character one by one seamlessly (introducing one hapless suitor as ‘a bit of a rattle’ sets the tone).
For all the naysayers expecting the usual ‘young-girl-seeks-eligible-bachelor’ fare from Austen, Stillman impressively elevates the obscure source material (actually an amalgamation of two novellas, the epistolary ‘Lady Susan’ and ‘Love And Friendship’) to the best kind of British comedy – bone-dry humour, scathing insults and packed with cringe-worthy moments of social awkwardness.