Love and Friendship

She didn’t exactly have an off day, did Jane Austen, but Simon Walton can’t help feeling Lady Susan was a bit of a rush job, a bit of a seventies Birmingham banger, not really with the sense and sensibility to sit with the sleek limousines of her substantive cannon. 

An Irish-Dutch collaboration, with an American at the helm.  Well, that’s a first, for me anyway.   Director Whit Stillman has the sort of career gap in his CV that gets you rejected by credit-scoring HR assistants before you ever make the shortlist.  Since 1998’s Last Days of Disco, where has he been?  Doing time?  Maybe not.  He can’t be faulted for making the proverbial silk purse with this ensemble uttering a novella’s worth of lines, and exiting stage left, right and centre like riders on a whirling merry-go-round.

Wordily faithful to the original, in every word, in fact.  The dialogue hangs like a pair of heavy curtains over the entire 90-odd minutes, smothering the brocaded action in a velvety sheen that would keep out even the worst days of an eighteenth century winter.  Not that the locations give much away.  A parade of stately piles, presumably all in Ireland, trot by, flagged up as one family seat after another.  Captions remind us that we are in “London” though the tightness of the shots allude to the tightness of the budget.  We could be in Lundin Links for all the visual cues we’re afforded.

I can’t be the only male to notice that Kate Beckinsale’s leading Lady Susan is significantly hotter than her petulant daughter in every way.  She’s worldly wiser, has all the right curves for a gorgeous Georgian, and is inexplicably not the object of desire for the entire cast – and I mean the entire cast.  She’s also a rather better actor than her sidekick.  Not to be too hard on Morfydd Clark, as she’s compelled to play Frederica Vernon’s second fiddle to her scheming mother, but she could do better, having Austen form already under her bodice belt – if Pride and Prejudice and Zombies counts.

In the convoluted conversational style of the time, one might consider the work to be in progress, a first draft if you will allow me, set to be revised, and perhaps reworked before being released upon the public.  One rather feels Miss Austen hit the return carriage to send, when her intention was to diligently press the save button.  Well, who among us hasn’t?

Round and round they go, with a cast list that makes you check if this is Ben Hur, only with the chariots replaced by rather more sedate two-horse Georgian Brougham carriages.  They are more sedate.  (I know, I drove one down George Street, eventually.  Charlton Heston would not have been impressed, and I learned some words that I can only surmise prove that from Edinburgh drivers have a surprising grasp of ancient Aramaic).

I could have learned Aramaic by the time all the players have been introduced, by handy captions that offer a synopsis of their backstories.  You may feel cheerfully ready to fling yourself decorously in front of Mr Hur’s sword-hubbed ride. I did.

The plot couldn’t come thick enough.  I was doing my best to pay attention, but maybe the worm’s eye view from the front row left it towering over me.  I don’t know who did it – nor even if there was a done it to be did.  Whatever, the costumes are good, the bosoms do heave and the gentlemen do gentle.  Merchant Ivory it isn’t but, then again, we’re not allowed to tickle that particular fancy these days, are we.

Love and Friendship, (though I noted precious little of either), is “U” Certificate, 92mins.

UK Release 29 May 2016


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