Welcome to the review of Love and friendship, a movie adaptation of “Lady Susan”, a novel by Jane Austen. As usual, spoiler alerts are necessary, although my unusual opinion of the movie might only spoil a film you might have enjoyed otherwise. I did not get what the raving reviews saw but a different perspective always have the potential to enrich our views.
My expectations were high seeing the main cast, the humour and the flirting, and mostly Kate Beckinsale attached to the trailer. In addition, as an adaptation of a Jane Austen novel, it could not but sate my thirst for something well written and instructive.
The presentation of the characters had an expositional awkwardness to it as it was over-repeated and announced too many characters at once or one after the other. The qualitative that accompany each person, rather than being humouristic, which we guess was the attention, just heavily added to the awkwardness.
The whole thing also had a feel of having failed to capture the soul of the book. At times too recited, at other as much a bore as the main character would have been expected to hate and therefore avoid . And yet, we were subjected to the very atmosphere that the trailer told us the heroin would take us away from.
I was particularly surprised at the display of such an aged protagonist. Lady Susan seemed a different person from the one in the trailer, looking rather tired than at the top of her game, in appearance and in character. And when the film reached that part of the trailer, it gave us a different perspective of what we thought we had seen before. This very rewinds remind us with bitterly growing cynicism how trailers are simply apt montage of the best parts of a movie to fit the illusion that lead to a ticket sale. Kate Beckinsale, I maintain, is the perfect casting for that character. Whatever her physical age, the character was supposed to rise above all that is established and maybe the subtlety was so high it lost me. A mix of the superficial contextualisation, and an understanding that does not match the dialogue makes it all lack the conviction that would have conveyed a more developed and rather more exciting character.
One person makes up for it all. He is Charles Vernon. Even with the little he appears and speaks, his choice of how he views the world is a mixture of candidness and a refreshing look on life in the midst of this milieu. Another character is St James. He is supposed to be awkward and is loudly so, in a timid yet unashamed manner. This is beautifully conveyed and so I guess he is a good character and good casting.
There are clear elements of subtle enough yet not hidden irony including the most important fourth commandment. Around her friend, we see her true face, her mask up (make up) in spite of her truthfulness, more to indicate the character she allows herself to be. The nude character (sans make up) is displayed to the rest of the cast to show some humility and conquer the incredule, the proud and the pompous. That attention to detail is remarkable.
But while the dialogue is impeccable, it feels recited, even in perfect Queen’s English. We don’t feel enough of Lady Susan’s struggle, we don’t get to relate in a way that her actions are justified as a desperate solution she makes the most of and creates for herself. The character’s personality is of those that sparkles in one excitement and that is gravely lacking. It takes 45 minutes to have some “action” but even the music that accompanies the sense of hurry does not get us there fast enough.
I am sorry to give it a 5. The beautiful Beckinsale is always worth watching. The period settings are impeccable in language and surroundings. A number of actors there, if not all (the otherwise great actress Chloë Sevigny, I felt a little too absent even when she was around), did a great job. However, I cannot ignore the amount of wasted potential. What kills it is that the whole thing is more read than lived. In other words, the flow of the dialogue is less a staged one than it is a suite of bullet-points in a book. The seduction is lost between the lines, the manipulation is announced as a result rather than an action. The tactics are piled up like facts rather than showcase in the deviousness and excitement. The amazing actors are wasted in direction and in the full harnessing of their characters’ exchanges.