Midway through watching this movie, I came to two realisations (and then some more). The first was had the purists been present they would have glared me down to stop me from laughing. For Jane Austen isn’t universally acknowledged as the provider of a wholesome laugh. While I do acknowledge there are many sophisticated, clever and witty conversations in her other books, she unleashes her inner cynic in “Love and Friendship“, based on her early novella Lady Susan.
The second was the familiarity of the main character, Lady Susan Vernon. Played with the right blend of known selfishness and feigned selflessness by Kate Beckinsale, she is a brilliant case of rampant narcissism. Even a small sampling of her words (of which there are many) and actions (disguised and self-justified) would have psychologists running for their notebooks and chairs. Widowed too early and with a daughter, as she constantly reminds us, she lives intermittently with her nearest relatives until she quickly dilutes their welcome. And then moves onto the next, with as little notice as possible to evade her increasing followers, debtors and lovers alike.
She is a grifter (probably not a word associated with Jane Austen), seducing and manipulating men and women respectively, with the aim of gaining a husband for herself and one for her daughter. She despises true love, as according to her, the only part of a man that makes a husband is his income, although even those words are not reflected by her actions at the conclusion of the movie!
Her plans are encouraged and abetted, by her best friend, Mrs Johnson played by Chloe Sevigny, one of the few characters in this movie that is developed to any depth, though similar in nature to Lady Susan. Which brings me to my third realisation…
That Love and Friendship is filmed in vignettes. And each set of characters was introduced beforehand. Even so, in truth, I wished I had a libretto or the novel itself so I could keep track. Consequently, I realised that midway through the movie, perhaps with less characters, those remaining could be more deeply drawn rather than being a sequence of walk on extra special guest star roles!
As for the plot, it demands to be followed carefully! For as Lady Susan is the driver of the story, one quickly learns that her versions of events aren’t always strictly true. Even when cornered and caught in untruth, Lady Susan dissembles brilliantly, that is, until people and events are further examined and the lie is exposed. Then suddenly, she moves elsewhere to avoid the consequences and responsibility of her actions. Much like the classic narcissist!
Beautifully filmed, but not in the overly worshipful way that plagues other Jane Austen films, Love and Friendship does through its scenery, of course, provide an ongoing insight into the successful upkeep of Great Britain’s stately homes.
But what most appealed to me was the wit of the script. It was replete with lines so wicked and cynical that the small crowd (from different walks of life by the way), all laughed uproariously!
Finally, while this film may be set in nineteenth century England, Love and Friendship could easily be transplanted into modern times. A self indulgent heroine greedily grabbing and grasping at every opportunity to make money and further her cause? Never, say the purists! All she would need is her own reality TV show!