Thursday, 7 July 2016

Love and Friendship: Film Review

Love and Friendship: Film Review


Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry, Tom Bennett
Director: Whit Stilman  


There can be no denying that Whit Stilman's Love and Friendship is a dizzying take on the meshing of an Austen novella, first published back in 1871.

Occasionally aloof and wrapped up in its own whimsical way with prose and the machinations of Beckinsale's Lady Susan, this piece is a pacy comedy mocking manners and cocking a snook at stuffy period pieces of the time, while still enjoying the trappings of such tropes of the genre.

For the period comedy, it’s off to the 1790s and to the world of “most accomplished flirt” and recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon (a good Beckinsale, revelling in the wicked ways of the word and general dispatches of disdain) whose desires to find a husband for herself and her daughter consume her daily interactions.

And that’s really rather it for the plot of Love and Friendship, a film that’s more concerned with a once over-lightly approach to many of its characters – and an approach which bizarrely suits Stillman’s execution rather masterfully.

Employing the actors to stand directly facing the camera while posing and posting sarcastic text on the screen is one of the more bravura touches of the piece, simultaneously acknowledging the source material and also negating the need for expositionary introductions that would waste time in an already slim and taut running time.

Beckinsale excels in the role and demonstrates a lighter touch which has hitherto been unexplored and could see her destined for awards season if some are to be believed. While her Lady Susan moves from one portion of the chess board of life to another, it’s clear she has her intentions in focus, even if sometimes, the script demands more from the audience. This is not a film which stops to let you catch up or stoops to pander to the common denominator. And it’s also not a film that has a traditional Austen heroine, with Beckinsale’s Lady Susan having more in common with Clueless than other period fare.

If Beckinsale impresses, it’s clearly Tom Bennett as the blithering fool Sir James Martin who steals the comic limelight. His rambling and delight at the simplest of things suggests a na├»vete that borders on idiot and is reminiscent of Hugh Laurie’s bumbling in Blackadder. However, his introduction comes at a great point for the film which begins to feel lost to anyone thanks to lighter characters and brief dalliances with them. And certainly his belief that there are 12 commandments is a delight to watch as he struggles with the idea that it could be anything different.

Perhaps though the lack of stronger male characters gives this piece a feminist watch that’s har  d  to escape and yet also delightful to revel in. This is a world where the women conduct the affairs and twirl around society with the men struggling to keep up – on this front, Stillman’s embracing cameras and sweeping dialogue shots do much to keep the viewer engaged.

Ultimately, Love and Friendship is a film of froth; a light adaptation that is a dizzying but slightly sophisticated affair, a film that revels in language and character and one that's grounded by a performance from Kate Beckinsale that will have you thinking twice about what she's done before.

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