Do you love films based on Jane Austen’s work or life, well, then you’ll love our theme this month. Grab your popcorn and a soda! It’s time for Movies in May!
I can’t think of a better way to end our Movies in May theme this month than by doing a review of the most recent Jane Austen film, Love and Friendship, which is based on her epistolary novella, Lady Susan.
Lady Susan is believed to have been written when Jane Austen was only 19 or 20 (amazing, with the nature of it!). It was not published until after her death by her nephew, James Edward Austen-Leigh, in his Memoir of Jane Austen. She likely never intended to publish it herself, and it is thought she tired of writing it, rushing the ending.
Now, I must confess (gulp!) that I had never read Lady Susan. At least, I never finished reading it. Being written only in letter form, I found it difficult to keep track of who the people were and what was happening. I found it difficult to “catch their tone of conversation” (as Mr. Darcy says). I felt that in order to grasp who people were and what was happening, I would need to take notes about each character and who they were and what they did from the letters. Needless to say I gave up.
Which is why I found the beginning of the film so humorous! Instead of just beginning the film, they showed each of the characters, their names, and a very brief summary of who they were. This is exactly what I would have needed as I read the book! Some were quite entertaining (and true to point!)
Lady Susan Vernon, played superbly by Kate Beckinsale, is the main character in the story. She is not your typical Austen character, although in my mind I kept comparing her to Emma (being manipulative) or even Lucy Steele (who is manipulative as well as mean). Lady Susan is a widow who has a teenage daughter, Frederica (played by Morfydd Clark), who has been sent away to school. It is apparent she does not care for her daughter. In fact, Lady Susan cares for no one but herself, continually puts people down, but then does not understand why they do not like her. She also knows precisely how to manipulate men.
The one gentleman we see her use her arts on is Reginald De Courcy (played by Xavier Samuel), the brother of the Mrs. Vernon, Lady Susan’s sister-in-law. Lady Susan has come to Churchill, the estate of her late husband’s brother and his family, and young Reginald comes to see this lady whose reputation has followed her there. He has heard about who she is, the most recent family she destroyed because of a dalliance with the husband, and her conniving ways. Once he meets her and spends time with her, however, he begins to believe all her excuses for how she was misunderstood and maligned, and he is sucked in.
Lady Susan also has plans for her daughter to marry Sir James Martin (played wonderfully by Tom Bennett), who provides much of the comedy in this film. Our introduction to him (he is referred to as a bit of a rattle and Frederica’s unintended) is one of the funniest scenes in the whole movie. Frederica refuses to marry him, and we can immediately understand why. He is a buffoon of all buffoons, and is so hilariously awkward in both speech and manners it was painfully fun to watch.
I won’t give away too much of the plot, but want to add that the cinematography, scenery, costumes, and music are wonderful. What a joy it was to feel as though we were actually stepping back in time. There was even one scene I was discussing with the young gal I saw it with. She liked the fact that this scene depicted what life would have really been like when a carriage that was backing up almost hit someone and they had to scurry out of the way. I had wondered whether it was just something that happened while filming and they decided to keep it in. I guess the carriages didn’t have the back-up cameras on them like we do today. 🙂
My final thoughts: This is very unlike any other Jane Austen novel or film. Our heroine is definitely not likeable, and you really don’t want a ‘happily ever after’ for her. In all of Austen’s other novels, our hearts tug with the hope that the hero and heroine will finally fall in love and get together at the end. I had no such heart tuggings, and when there was a wedding at the end, I felt like, “Ok, that was nice. So and so got married.” Jane Austen had said she didn’t write romance novels, and I would definitely agree that this was not a romance novel, despite there being a slight romance.
The acting was superb, and I have to admit I liked Xavier Samuel (Reginald). I couldn’t help thinking he would do well portraying Mr. Darcy if another Pride and Prejudice is made. Unfortunately, he is already too old (33 I believe) and by the time they make another one, his age would likely put him out of the running.
I enjoyed the film very much and give it two thumbs up. It captures a lot of Austen’s wit that has been left out of the other film adaptations.
Oh, and I began reading Lady Susan right after seeing the film and was actually able to follow it! The director, Whit Stillman, took some liberties with it (especially the ending), but he was able to capture the essence of the story quite well.
Have you seen it and what are your thoughts?