Francesca Rudkin is an entertainment reviewer for NZ Herald.

Movie review: Love and Friendship

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Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny in Love and Friendship. Photo / Supplied
Kate Beckinsale and Chloe Sevigny in Love and Friendship. Photo / Supplied

With the opening credits giving quirky character introductions with descriptions such as Lord Manwaring being "a divinely attractive man" and Sir James Martin "a bit of a rattle" - it's soon clear that American director Whit Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's novella, Lady Susan, is going to be a lot of fun.

Turns out this strangely titled adaptation, named after another of Austen's novellas, isn't just delightful good fun, it's also terribly funny, sharp and dry, and wonderfully brought to life by an irrepressible Kate Beckinsale and a supporting cast including her Last Days of Disco (also a Stillman number) co-star Chloe Sevigny.

As we expect from Austen, there are observations on society, class and the manners of the day - well, among English country house inhabitants at least.

But this is a more cynical piece from the timeless Austen, drawing less on romance and more on money and sex - both of which are very important to Lady Susan.

Recently widowed without money, and with a teenage daughter (Morfydd Clark) and lavish lifestyle to support, Lady Susan's main concern is financial security - something she has no choice but to obtain through her beauty and charm.

Woefully immoral and self-interested, Lady Susan isn't fussed about the marital status or age of her suitors, although she expects, hilariously, others to abide by good manners, admonishing a young man who dares address her in the street.

After engaging in an affair with Lord Manwaring, Lady Susan retreats to her sister-in-law Catherine Vernon's (Emma Greenwell) country house, where she begins to bewitch Catherine's idealistic younger brother Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), much to the horror of his parents.

Lady Susan also works hard to marry off her daughter, Frederica (who goes as far as to suggest she could earn a living), to the wealthy but wonderfully silly and scene-stealing Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

While Beckinsale keeps this film moving at a breathless pace that defies its era, Sevigny as Lady Susan's confidante, Alicia Johnson, is demure by comparison, but it's through their friendship that Stillman keeps us across Lady Susan's plans and manipulations.

Through a combination of beautiful art direction and costumes, and racy, witty repartee, he manages to bring this version of Austen into the 21st century without removing her from 18th century England.

Beckinsale is absolutely transfixing as the heroine - or villain, depending on your level of admiration for this resourceful woman - and Lady Susan is some of her best work to date.

Verdict: A deliciously witty and racy Jane Austen adaptation.

Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny

Director: Whit Stillman

Running time: 93 mins

Rating: G

- TimeOut

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