Can the deceitful manipulations of Lady Susan Vernon lead anyone to a happily-ever-after?
Rating: 5 stars out of 5
Today is the day that Whit Stillman’s movie, Love & Friendship, is planned to be released in theaters everywhere… Therefore, I thought it would be fitting to start my newest blog event, “Beyond “Pride & Prejudice: Celebrating The Other Side of JAFF,” with my review of this movie.
I had the good fortunate to attend an early screening of Whit Stillman’s, Love & Friendship, through my JASNA membership, thanks to the efforts of the lovely JASNA member, Laurie Morison. On a crisp spring morning in late April, I met my friend and very generous JAFF mentor, Sheila, in NYC for an Austen-inspired day in the Big Apple. First, I caught a train at my local LIRR station, before I found myself amongst the bustling sights and sounds of Penn Station in NYC.
After meeting up with Sheila, we headed across to 500 Park Avenue, to an intimate screening room for our showing of Love & Friendship. By the time the cameras rolled, the theater was about two-thirds filled with other enthusiastic Janeites.
“Lady Susan” the text that Whit Stillman’s movie and book, Love & Friendship, is based on, was written by an adolescent Jane Austen, but it wasn’t published until 1871, several decades after her death. This novella-in-letters format demonstrates Austen’s early preferences for the epistolary text structure, and both “Sense & Sensibility” and “Pride & Prejudice” were also originally composed by Austen as epistolary novels. Part of the brilliance in the direction of Whit Stillman’s movie is how he brings to life the characters from these letters in Austen’s novella and fills the gaps of this story with a jubilant energy that’s refined enough for a 19th century period piece and yet, witty enough to captivate and amuse modern-day audiences. The novella-length of this story also means that Mr. Stillman didn’t have to sacrifice the inclusion of pertinent subplots or secondary characters to this story, as is often done during other Austen adaptations.
The movie opens outside of Langford estate, the home of Mr. and Mrs. Manwaring. As the scene unfolds, the recently widowed Lady Susan Vernon enters her awaiting carriage, as she is politely ejected from Langford at the insistence of Mrs. Manwaring. Apparently, Lady Susan’s preferences for male companionship also include dashingly handsome married gentlemen, and Mr. Manwaring is quite bereft to see her depart. As the credits begin to roll, laughter erupted amongst the audience, as we received a taste of the snarky humor that was laced throughout this entire movie.
Now that Lady Susan is on her way to Churchill, the estate belonging to Mr. Charles Vernon, the younger brother of Lady Susan’s first husband, letters are also exchanged between his wife, Mrs. Catherine Vernon, and her mother, Lady C. De Courcy, expressing Mrs. Vernon’s desperate fears regarding Lady Susan’s upcoming visit. Her concerns significantly increase when her attractive 23 year-old brother, Reginald De Courcy, who is also the heir to Parkland, his family’s estate, becomes quickly attached to Lady Susan early in her visit to Churchill. However, when a letter for Lady Susan arrives from the school where her daughter, Miss Frederica Susanna Vernon, is currently attending classes, Lady Susan’s schemes must be revised, placing every one of her acquaintances within the path of her cunning machinations.
This movie is a true credit to the tremendous efforts and talents of Jane Austen, Mr. Stillman and the entire Love & Friendship cast. Naturally, this film owes its origins to Austen’s astute and earliest observations of the landed gentry, which she cleverly narrated within her novella’s forty-one letters. Her heroine, Lady Susan Vernon, is quite unlike the heroines from Austen’s six major works; she’s an accomplished coquette whose devious schemes involve finding wealthy husbands for herself and her daughter, while at the same time even Frederica receives the callous treatment that Lady Susan bestows upon anyone who attempts to get in her way.
Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s gorgeous costumes , Anna Rackard’s production designs, and the screenplay’s wonderful dialogue are splendidly orchestrated under the careful direction of Whit Stillman, who seems to have a natural talent for updating this story with his sly humor while staying true to many of the novellas essential elements. For example, to assist movie-viewers as new characters were introduced onto the screen, Stillman pauses the film’s action to introduce each new character, while at the same time he displays his/her name along with his own tongue-in-cheek character profile across the screen in elegant white text. The ending has been altered from Austen’s original ending, as the comeuppance Stillman serves his characters is less harsh than the treatment delivered by Austen in “Lady Susan.”
Kate Beckinsale radiates in this role, bringing to Lady Susan’s character every bit of the snobbish charm, graceful mannerisms, and elegant sensuality necessary to have every gentleman across England (and perhaps in the theater) eating out of her palms. The natural style in which Regency English flows from Kate’s tongue is also quite an achievement. She doesn’t miss a beat carrying every scene she’s in with a refined air of confidence and style. Her delivery of dry humor is also spot on; one can barely believe several of these scenes were completed without numerous retakes, due to the laughter that must have erupted during filming.
The supporting characters were aptly cast as well. While no one brings to the film the same energy at Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny plays her role as Lady Susan’s closest confidante with a reserved air and a deep sense of loyalty that earns her a respectful place at Beckinsale’s side. The gentlemen are all so well-suited to their roles, which may not seem like such a compliment, given that their own lack of self-awareness becomes the center of numerous laughs throughout the movie. Whether it’s the confident, young suitor, the wealthy, single bachelor or the older brother-in-law, Stillman has his fun with these gentlemen, showing once again how Austen herself manipulates her characters own self-awareness, or lack of it, to cleverly demonstrate several of the themes within her story.
As a self-proclaimed Janeite, I look forward to a repeated viewing of this movie. I’ll probably catch a few lines that were said with a bit of haste and I’ll certainly notice new details in the historical settings and the stunning costumes. For a viewer with a less emotional connection to Austen and her work, I’m sure this movie will still be entertaining, but I do believe that viewers with a deeper understanding of Austen’s work will be the greatest beneficiaries of this adaptation.
I’d love to share with you these behind-the-scenes photos from the filming of this movie:
If you’re in NYC to enjoy this movie or another Austen-inspired event, I highly recommend sharing it with another amazing Janeite and enjoying a sumptuous afternoon tea, to keep you immersed in the world of Austen.
We were lucky to have both, and if you find yourself here too, I highly recommend Alice’s Tea Cup, which has three locations in NYC, where you can choose from one of three tea services or from their breakfast, lunch or dinner menus. Known as NYS’s most whimsical tea house, they aim to provide attentive service and a memorable meal. Thank you, Sheila, for an unforgettable day!
For my lovely readers, I am offering two paperback copies of “Lady Susan, in the edition shown below, for a giveaway. Please leave a comment below this review and share with me your own viewing plans for this movie by Midnight ET on June 2nd. If a viewing isn’t in your near future, maybe pre-ordering it on Amazon is more to your liking? The winners of this giveaway will be announced on the same day as the next post in this event, which is Friday, June 3, 2016. The winners must have a U.S. or Canadian mailing address.
I will also be reviewing Whit Stillman’s book, “Love & Friendship,” next month for the upcoming blog tour being organized by Laurel Ann Nattress of https://austenprose.com/.
Look no further than the posts below for more reviews of this latest Austen adaptation: