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
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
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
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.