Friday, May 27, 2016

Love & Friendship … scheming towards matrimony in this whimsical delight (QFT until 9 June)

The lilting harp music that opens Love & Friendship is quickly followed by some light drumming, perhaps hinting at the emotional light and shade ahead in this entirely whimsical but utterly enchanting period drama.

Love & Friendship doesn’t take itself at all seriously: that’s immediately apparent from the captions that appear under the book-like introductions to the large cast. Yet it’s beautifully shot and moves along like a real page-turner.

Filmed in Ireland and based on an early Jane Austen novella, we step back into the highfalutin English Regency era where men wore wigs and tights while women sought husbands of wealthy enough to fund their lavish wardrobes.

Widowed Lady Susan (played mischievously by Kate Beckinsale) has escaped to her in-law’s estate while the chattering classes gossip about her morals. It’s all true. She’s as twisted as some of the old trees on the estates she flits between. But she’s a woman with a mission: she needs a man to fund her lifestyle, and so does her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) who’s nearing the end of her formal education (though her mother has a thing or two to teach her).
“We don’t live, we visit.”

Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) is a fool, and one who could fill the whole vacuum of space with inane twaddle unless someone interjected. He has proposed to young Frederica who has the wit to be repulsed by him. Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) is of fine stock but his parents warn him to be wary of any dalliance with the flirty widow. And then there’s the already married Lord Mannering (Lochlann O'Mearáin) and his hysterical wife (shrilly played by Jenn Murray).

In what becomes a fast-paced reality show complete with playground gossip of who’s going with whom, new plot points draw up to the door of stately homes by horse and carriage and through the delivery and reading of letters sealed with wax causing characters to travel post haste across England to steer men in and out of the way of Lady Susan’s charms. Chloë Sevigny plays Alicia, and American confidant of the devious star of the film.
“Facts are horrid things.”

A queen of manipulation, Lady Susan could talk herself out of anything. “Only clever tradesmen can evade” her charms and genius quips one wise character.

Before you know Whit Stillman has the ninety minute film all wrapped up and the credits are rolling. For such a sweet film, the succinct ending is a little unsatisfactory. While justice has perhaps been done, I can’t believe Lady Susan would go to all that effort and then be content with the eventual conclusion.

You don’t need to be familiar with Jane Austin to enjoy the film. It’s complete nonsense, but delightfully entertaining all the same. Love & Friendship is being screened in the Queen’s Film Theatre until 9 June.

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