Better Than the CIA
Love & Friendship
Stars: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Morfydd Clark, Tom Bennett, Xavier Samuel, Stephen Fry, Emma Greenwell, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Justin Edwards, Jenn Murray and Lochlann O’Mearain
Director/Scriptwriter: Whit Stillman, based on the novella, “Lady Susan” by Jane Austen
Composer: Mark Suozzo
Cinematographer: Richard Van Oosterhout
Rating: PG but with themed material
Running Length: 92 minutes
This small film, based on a Jane Austen novella, “Lady Susan” and shows the intricacies of being a woman in the 18th century, is slowly gaining prominence in the film world. In my town alone, it has been in theaters for four weeks with growing attendance each week. What makes this dryly humorous story of a conniving widow---who wants to keep her station in life, and make a good marriage for her daughter---attractive? It is Kate Beckinsale’s performance as Lady Susan, who hasn't met a man she can't twist around her little finger, or Tom Bennett as the “silly”Sir James Martin, who hasn't met a situation he somehow can't throw into confusion. On opposite sides of the spectrum, they manage to keep the rest of the people they meet on emotional edge. Like the person you don't want to come to dinner, actually does---and stays for a week, too.
The story begins with the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) visiting at the estate of her brother-in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell.) Lady Susan knows everyone thinks she is a flirt and tries to remedy the situation, but it gradually falls apart. In the meantime, Susan’s daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) runs away from boarding school and soon ends up at her uncle’s home, too. Since school is expensive and Susan’a funds are low, she wonders what to do next. The fun begins with each new round of guests, such as Sir James (Tom Bennett) who wants to marry Frederica, but doesn't seem to know what to do, as he giggles through the conversations. Then there are the Manwarings, with Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearain) falling for Susan, and his wife (Jenn Murray) being aware of the affair and wanting a separation. Next is Reginald DeCourcey (Xavier Samuel) who falls for Susan, but is unaware of the other men she has fancied. All this, and the boarding school bills pile up. Susan and Frederica go from house to house trying not to look needy. Something needs to be done, but what?
I enjoyed Kate Beckinsale’s performance, which is a change from her physically demanding action roles in the “Underworld” film series. Here is a Kate who can speak pages of dialogue without a hitch or catching a breath. Tom Bennett as Sir James keeps such an open face you wonder if it is painted on, and his body language tilts from side to side. He always steals his scenes. Chloe Sevigny as Alicia, is Susan’s friend and always give her straight forward talk. You can be sure that the women in the film know just how to manage husbands, and end greetings to each other with either “I hope his next gout attack ends quickly,” or “I hope his next gout attack goes on and on.”
If you like a period costumes, film sets that use furniture of that time, rooms that are smaller and elegant, rather than large and baronial, and witty language with two meanings, this is for you. You will always be a beat behind Lady Susan, who is better than the CIA about observation and planning. There are no passionate love scenes, or dinner parties with multitudes of food servings, but women who work their own language and fashion their own situations that catch your eye. When entering a room, you can be certain everyone is seated just so and in that place because someone maneuvered them there. A game of strategy.
Copyright 2016 Marie Asner