In late 18th century England, the widowed Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale) has quite the reputation. After being ejected from the hospitality of the Manwaring family (for seducing Mr. Manwaring), she is taken in by her brother in-law Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) and his family at the Churchill estate. With her American confidant Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) and little real regard for anyone else, she proceeds to cause all manner of mannered havoc as she attempts to marry off her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) and herself to secure their place in high society.
The first half is suitably Austenian – setting up loads of intricately knotted character relationships and then having them talk a hundred miles a minute about something that recently happened to someone else in a place other than the room they’re currently in. Witticisms abound of course, but then around the mid point, something actually happens (on screen, no less!), giving proceedings a much-needed boost. This is also around the time we are introduced to the film’s secret weapon: the delightfully dim (or as his caption describes him, ‘a bit of a rattle’) Sir James Martin, from a film-stealing performance by Tom Bennett.
Beckinsale and Sevigny – both re-teaming with Stillman after THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO - spark wonderfully off of one another. Their utter obliviousness to their servants doing the real work is a superb running gag, and at their most outrageous they bring to mind a couple of foremothers to Ab Fab’s Edina & Patsy. As long as it has us laughing, it's terrific - but in the dry patches, for those who can take or leave Austen’s style this begins very quickly to feel like very slow going, and like so much of Stillman's work; just a bunch of poshos with pretend problems.
LOVE & FRIENDSHIP is released May 27 in the UK, June 3 in the US, and July 21 in Australia.