An anti-hero­ine­forthe ages

Jane Austen’s sense is beau­ti­fully mar­ried to Whit Still­man’s sen­si­bil­ity in this sharp, witty com­edy of man­ners, writes

The Irish Times - Friday - The Ticket - - MUSIC -

Kate Beck­in­sale and Tom Ben­nett in Love & Friend­ship

LOVE & FRIEND­SHIP Di­rected by Whit Still­man. Star­ring Kate Beck­in­sale, Xavier Sa­muel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Green­well, Tom Ben­nett, James Fleet, Jemma Red­grave, Justin Edwards, Jenn Mur­ray, Stephen Fry, Chloë Se­vi­gny. G cert, gen­eral re­lease, 93 min Why, Mr Still­man, we are driven to con­clude that, in your match with Miss Austen, you have en­gi­neered a union more per­fect than any found in di­vine na­ture. The hon­ey­bee is less ac­com­mo­dated to the flower than are you to that child of Hamp­shire.

That’s what they’re say­ing, and they’re not wrong. Whit Still­man, direc­tor of ur­bane come­dies such as Metropoli­tan and Barcelona, sounded like the ideal film-maker to tackle Jane Austen’s early novel Lady Su­san. Such mar­riages, fol­low­ing their cre­ation in heaven, of­ten sink into the hell of good in­ten­tions. But Love & Friend­ship (cheeky am­per­sand there, Whit) fiz­zles with such comic elan that one prays for the union to last be­yond in­fir­mity.

Still­man casts Kate Beck­in­sale, a strong pres­ence in the direc­tor’s The Last Days of Disco, as the cun­ning, un­sen­ti­men­tal widow Lady Su­san Ver­non. We first see her set­ting one coun­try es­tate into a state of emo­tional tur­moil and flee­ing amid fur­rowed protes­ta­tions.

Among the fun­ni­est things in Love & Friend­ship (and that’s say­ing some­thing) is the sheer ter­ror that Lady Su­san in­stils in wives and mothers of the Home Coun­ties. The fear is, how­ever, tem­pered by re­spect for her “ge­nius”. No later Austen hero­ine ex­hibits quite this de­gree of quasi-mar­tial cal­cu­la­tion. In an­other so­ci­ety, Lady Su­san could have com­manded spy rings or whole navies.

The first of sev­eral in­ter­twined in­trigues – re­lated at length to Su­san’s Amer­i­can pal, Mrs Ali­cia John­son (Chloë Se­vi­gny) – kicks off when our anti-hero­ine vis­its her sis­ter-in-law, Mrs Cather­ine Ver­non (Emma Green­well), and her agree­able hus­band, Mr Charles Ver­non (Justin Edwards), at their coun­try es­tate. We sus­pect that she has eyes on Cather­ine’s brother, Regi­nald De Courcy (Xavier Sa­muel).

Events be­come com­pli­cated when Lady Su­san’s daugh­ter Fred­er­ica (Morfydd Clark) – treated by mother with the af­fec­tion one might lend to a ver­ruca – ar­rives to turn this head and that. Maybe she might like to have a crack at the hi­lar­i­ously stupid Sir James Martin (Tom Ben­nett). “Cow­per the poet? He also writes verse? Most im­pres­sive,” he says in a rel­a­tively lu­cid mo­ment.

This beau­ti­fully crafted Ir­ish co-production, much of it filmed on the New­bridge Es­tate in Co Dublin, leaves the viewer in no doubt that Su­san is a vic­tim of cir­cum­stance. Left rel­a­tively pen­ni­less in a so­ci­ety where woman are still seen as prop­erty, she is forced to rely on her peer­less wits to fash­ion a life worth liv­ing.

Beck­in­sale re­tains a gim­leteyed de­ter­mi­na­tion through­out, but the script leaves us in no doubt that Lady Su­san fights as much for sur­vival as dom­i­na­tion. “We don’t live; we visit,” she tells her daugh­ter at one point.

Nonethe­less, both Still­man and Austen (Still­ten? Aust­man?) rel­ish their char­ac­ter’s highly cre­ative amoral­ity. The quotable lines fire out at such a pace that it is al­most im­possi- ble to keep up. In­deed, at times, the fire-hose of cyn­i­cal apho­risms sug­gest high screw­ball such as His Girl Fri­day rather than Still­man’s more stud­ied com­edy.

“Too old to be gov­ern­able, too young to die,” Su­san says of a mid­dle-aged hus­band. “The fees are too high to even think of pay­ing, so, in a sense, it’s an econ­omy,” she re­marks when pre­sented with a bill from her daugh­ter’s school. You’ll want to write these down. You’ll want to see the film again.

Love & Friend­ship is hand­some with­out in­dulging in pe­riod porn or the an­tique earth­i­ness we got in Joe Wright’s Pride & Prej­u­dice. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomh­naigh’s costumes are pre­dictably smart (in both senses of the word). There is great sup­port from lo­cal play­ers such as Kelly Camp­bell and Ross Mac Ma­hon. The whole project sings sweetly, like cut glass tapped by sil­ver.

A de­light.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Ireland

© PressReader. All rights reserved.