Lots to Love about Stillman’s period comedy
Jane Austen story is brilliantly told
A n 18th century period drama might not be the kind of film associated with laughs. But Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship is packed with laugh out loud moments and comedy.
The movie follows beautiful widow Lady Susan Vernon (played by Kate Beckinsale), as she attempts to make a fresh start for herself and her daughter, while taking up a temporary residence with her in-laws.
The story itself is based on a lesser known Jane Austen novel Lady Susan.
From the withering put downs issued by Lady Susan herself through to the gossip and hearsay of the 18th century society drawing rooms, featuring actors such as Chloe Sevigny, Stephen Fry and Tom Bennet, it’s hilarious.
Writer-director Stillman, Oscar nominated back in 1990 for his selfpenned movie Metropolitan, may have had some say in the script but he is quick to praise the source material.
Talking to 7DAYS from New York, he said: “I added some of the lines from my own experience but I think some of the best lines Jane Austen ever wrote were in this novella.
It was really fun to work with this material, it didn’t have all the weight or the prestige of her masterpieces, so I had the freedom to move things around.
“At the same time, I had very funny lines and very funny material at my disposal and when I first read it I thought she was channeling Oscar Wilde. “It seemed like something he would have written.” Lady Susan, written in the late 18th century but not published until 1871, was an epistolary novel: in short, it was written as a series of documents. This, rather than the language, was the only problem that Stillman encountered. He ended up creating characters such as Mrs Cross, Lady Susan’s friend, as a device to move the dialogue and story along. “It was really interesting because in our modern day films, there are conversations between people so you have to find some way for people to be near each other physically. But in the epistolary style, you have to find a way for everyone to be far apart – hence the letters. That became a traumatic problem. Everyone was obviously separate in the material so I had to find a way of bringing people close physically.” The movie is out and the critics are lapping it up. But Stillman is not entirely done with the project. The 64-year-old, who is all set to revisit a project about expatriates for a series on Amazon, also wrote a ‘novel’ of Love & Friendship. He explains: “It is finished already and has been published by Jane Austen’s last publisher John Murray Press. So we are tied into the past and I hope they do as good a job for me as they did for Jane. Although I was terrified of it, I enjoyed it.”