Love & Friendship
Adapting a Jane Austen novel is extremely hard, and the directors and screenwriters who pull off a decent film should be applauded. Austen’s novels are known for being extremely dense with a barrage of characters all with different relations and intents. One of her earliest novels “Lady Susan” has been adapted into a film by Whit Stillman and retitled Love & Friendship. It is adapted with an expert hand and even tweaked a bit to modernize the storytelling.
Love & Friendship has an incredibly complex story with too many characters to remember or make sense of in one paragraph. So simply put, the story is about a widowed woman, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsdale) who looks to reestablish herself and her family name by pairing herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) with wealthy men. The film takes on a more political tone rather than the emotional one’s we were used to from former adaptation of the genre.
I rather enjoyed the tone that Stillman decided to take with the story. I think that we are pretty much saturated with Victorian aristocrat love stories, so it’s refreshing to see this different and more diplomatic-like approach to the courting of young men and women of the time. However I think that the film somewhat completely throws the emotional aspect of the story out of the window, and I would have appreciated a little more of it in the story, even if it is a merely subtle brush in a scene or two; it does help give balance to the story.
I also really liked Stillman’s approach to helping the audience keep up with the old English and all the names and relations of the Lords. The film often pauses on a character and cites his or her name and a brief explanation of who they are. I also enjoyed how written cards or poems had the lines appear on the screen as a character read them. It certainly does help keep up with the story, and anyone who has watched an Austen adaptation knows how difficult it is to keep things clear.
As for the acting you have your typical British actor who remains posh and unemotional playing a lord, but you also have some different characters that were in many ways informal and awkward, and gave the story a much more relatable tone. This was most prominent with Tom Bennett who plays Sir James Martin, an intendant of Frederica who is extremely out of place and clumsy in his interaction with other aristocrats. Kate Beckinsdale also takes Susan’s character in a different direction than most, being almost Frank Underwood-like and more coldblooded than any of the other characters on screen. Beckinsdale also does a fine job in making her character seem so intriguing and powerful when a woman in those times, having been widowed, would have been at the bottom of the food chain. She makes Susan’s movements and tactics seem credible and not look out of place or like preachy feminism.
Love & Friendship is a different Austen adaptation than most, it is a movie financed by Amazon Studios, which is significant since it could mark a big step of the Silicon Valley giant into the film world. The film is a mere 90 minutes, which does help the audience with their stamina. This is achieved by compressing some scenes or chats or by skipping over an event and simply citing it afterwards. It was a courageous decision that could have lost the audience along the way, but it ended up proving beneficial by cutting the running time.
The ending is a bit abrupt, but the film overall has an intriguing story to experience, with a refreshing perspective by Stillman and his cast.