“Love and Friendship”


                Director Walt Stillman has converted Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan” into a full-blown teacup-and-hoop-skirt parlor drama about English gentility in the 1790’s.  The main character, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is a recent widow who is very pretty, of refined manners, possessing a quick wit and a loquacious kind of articulate repartee, so she makes a very good impression in polite company.  It takes you a while to learn that she is completely selfish and incredibly manipulative.  Pity the poor chump upon whom she sets her sights and directs her considerable wiles.

                Reginald (Xavier Samuel) is a well-born, handsome, and sincere, but not quite street-smart enough to know when he’s being played.  He makes an easy mark for Lady Susan, except, inconveniently, the estate he’s in line to inherit won’t become available until his father dies, which doesn’t look like it will be any time soon, and well, Lady Susan is in somewhat of a hurry, since she’s currently without funding, and making the rounds of friends and ex-in-laws as a “house guest” until she can manage to arrange something more closely approximating the manner of living to which she’d become accustomed.  She’d almost managed to pawn off her debutante daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) on an available nobleman, Sir James (Tom Bennett), but there’s a problem:  the shy but intelligent Frederica just isn’t smitten with Sir James, who bounces around with a silly grin on his face like Tigger meets The Village Idiot.  And his conversation is positively boorish.  Lady Susan has already left a trail of anguish behind her, which she freely admits to her American friend, Alicia (Chloe Sevigny), whose family has demanded that she quit befriending the rapaciously destructive Lady Susan, but Alicia can’t help herself: she, too, is drawn like a moth to a flame.

                So how is Lady Susan going to manipulate this situation to where her daughter gets married off to someone rich, so she doesn’t have to worry about her any more, and she also wins the prize of a rich nobleman herself, so she can continue her coquettish conquests?   Well, it’s convoluted, and at times difficult for the viewer to follow, despite Director Stillman’s attempts to introduce the film by labelling the characters for the viewer (and sometimes the appellations themselves are tongue-in-cheek).

                Yes, Jane Austen’s vision of English nobility continues to fascinate us, even without the upstairs/downstairs dimension of Downton Abbey’s inclusion of the servants in the family drama.  Here, the servants are suitably silent and always deferential, despite the obvious shenanigans taking place before their eyes.  And all this time the French were having their Revolution, which caused nary a tremor in the teacup for our self-absorbed landed gentry.  En garde, for rapier repartee.

Questions for Discussion:

1)                   When have you been so engrossed in your personal life that you were unaware of world events?

2)                  When have you been so engrossed in a love affair that you were unaware you were being manipulated?

3)                  When have you been so engrossed in a movie that sitting on the front row didn’t even bother you?

Dr. Ronald P. Salfen, DFW Film Critics Association