Love and Friendship; or, the Rollicking Sensation When Austen’s Lady Susan Meets the Silver Screen

I had the amazing opportunity to see Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship in March at a screening at the Wexner Center for the Arts at Ohio State University. If you have ever seen a Whit Stillman movie (Damsels in Distress, Metropolitan, Barcelona, etc.), you’ll have an idea of what you’re in store for—intelligent humor that irritates some viewers. I’ve never quite understood why that would be the case, but if you want a review that touches upon that, then I suggest you read “An Exceedingly Brief and Entirely Incomplete Defense of Whit Stillman’s Damsels in Distress on Nitrate Lights. As for Love and Friendship, it is as funny as, if not funnier than, Stillman’s Damsels in Distress. Then again, that might not be a fair comparison, since Love and Friendship is based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan. While Austen’s social commentary is witty, Stillman adds another layer to it that had me falling out of my chair because I was laughing so hard.

love-and-friendship-movie-posterI’ve mentioned before that Lady Susan, consisting entirely of letters until the conclusion, allows the reader to get a glimpse into multiple characters instead of following one or two. More than that, the characters are allowed to express themselves, as opposed to being filtered through the lens of the narrator. BUT! The problem with epistolary novels is that nothing really seems that believable. How can someone remember word-for-word what was said in a conversation at a ball? They can’t. This is why I welcome Love and Friendship with open arms. Whit Stillman brings to life an epistolary novel with such exuberance that I wanted to watch it over and over and over again. I couldn’t, and that made me sad.

To speak momentarily of the actors and actresses, I cannot praise them enough. After watching the movie, you will think Lady Susan can’t be played by anyone other than Kate Beckinsale. In fact, every actor perfectly fits their part. They each play their characters with such authority and authenticity that even Austen would be laughing until her belly ached. Actually, I think she would be very pleased to see the characters come to life because she must have felt confined by the epistolary form. With Love and Friendship, though, her wide range of characters are vibrant. We can now see Sir James Martin bumble and babble his way through society that was merely a simple description in the novel: “Sir James talked a good deal, […] mixing more frequent laughter with his discourse than the subject required; [and] said many things over and over again” (71). I have to say that Tom Bennett’s Sir James Martin is such a memorable character that I found myself reciting some of his lines afterwards. Thanks to Stillman’s script and Bennett’s impeccable delivery, I have never been so amused by peas before! We can also see Lady Susan cleverly manage everyone like puppets, or so she thinks.

Kate Beckinsale (Lady Susan) and Tom Bennett (Sir James Martin) in one of my favorite scenes. (This is not the pea one.)

There are going to be numerous reviews of this movie, so I won’t trouble you too much. As an Austen scholar and lover of all things 18th and 19th century, I have to say that Stillman executes Love and Friendship perfectly. When any of Austen’s novels are adapted to film, I’m keen to see it. Sometimes I like the outcome better than at other times. This one I loved. I am also a firm believer that Jane Austen is more than Pride and Prejudice, Sense and Sensibility, and Emma; she is her juvenilia, her letters, and her lesser known novels. She is a talented author of wit and social commentary that can only be depicted skillfully and artfully by another Austen aficionado, Whit Stillman.

In other words, GO SEE IT!

Be sure to check out the trailer up at the top. It’s well worth it!

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