Movie Review: LOVE & FRIENDSHIP (Ireland/France/Netherlands 2015) ***1/2

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love_and_friendship.jpgLOVE & FRIENDSHIP (Ireland/France/Netherlands 2015) ***1/2
Directed by Whit Stillman

Starring: Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, Stephen Fry

Review by Gilbert Seah

Whit Stillman is a Harvard educated American writer/director famous for his trilogy METROPOLITAN (this one winning him an Oscar nomination for Best Screenplay), BARCELONA and THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO. LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is his fifth film after DAMSELS IN DISTRESS, his favourite (and mine too). All films share the common theme of young adults embroiled in a social class structure. DISCO and DAMSELS featured female protagonists, the former with stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny. Stillman uses them again in LOVE & FRIENDSHIP.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is based on the Jane Austen epistolary (a series of documents such as letters, diary entries, and newspaper clippings) novel “Lady Susan”. So, most of film’s dialogue, really funny and written in the English spoken in the Austen novels is written by Stillman himself. He moulded the main character of Lady Susan with his star Beckinsale in mind, often writing into the early hours of the morning to suit the different actors in their roles.

Set in the 1790s, the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) seeks refuge with her in-laws as rumours about her private life circulate through society. While staying at the estate in Churchill, Lady Susan decides to find herself and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), a husband. As Lady Susan embarks on a controversial relationship with a married man, seduction, deception, broken hearts, and gossip all ensue. She also pursues a romance with handsome Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) while pushing her daughter to marry the wealthy and extremely talkative Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett, stealing every scene he is in). Frederica is opposed as Sir Martin is (as in the words of the script) a bit of a rattle.

Stillman’s Lady Susan is a likeable one. Stillman does not judge her deeds but lets her manipulate those around her in a comedic fashion. Her victims are looked upon as weaker characters whose existence in life is primarily to be taken advantaged of. Even her pregnancy and husband stealing is given a light look, given the period of the story. The result is a light film which stresses a comedy of manners rather than a tale of morality.

The film contains a large number of characters, related, married or related by marriage They hold titles. To familiarize the audience quickly, each character is introduced, at the start of the film with a picture portrait followed by cute titles below such as: “he’s a bit of a rattle”, or “wealthy but not well liked”. The tactic works, and the audience is soon familiarized with all the story’s characters and their relations, though it requires a bit of attention.

As the film is an Austen period piece, the costumes, props and sets are important in setting the mood and atmosphere of the film. The film was stunningly shot in Ireland by Dutch cinematographer Richard Van Oosterhout. The costumes were designed by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh in which her massive use of green (for example in the footmen uniforms) explains her Irish heritage. Lady Susan’s dresses can be seen morphing from black to purple to red as she changes moods from mourning her late husband to finding a new suitor.

LOVE & FRIENDSHIP will definitely delight Jane Austen fans who have seen their favourite Austen adaptations like PERSUASION, SENSE & SENSIBILITY, EMMA etc on the screen. LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is Austen with a naughtier, more mischievous female character, not a prim and proper one as in her famous novels, with the additional bonus of a Whit Stillman’s imprint.

 

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