Around the middle of last year, Amazon and Roadside Attractions set out to sell Love and Friendship, which had debuted to acclaim at Sundance a few months prior, to the general audience. The movie, based on a Jane Austen novel, was sold as a dry comedy about the manners and rules of Victorian England society. And it delivered solidly on that promise.
The story follows Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), a recently widowed woman who is a master at manipulating the emotions and actions of those around her. With nowhere to go or stay, she engages on a mini tour of family and relations not only to keep up with society but also find a suitable husband for both herself and her daughter. Chaos follows in her wake as she breezes in and out of situations, turning people one direction or another to meet her ultimate goals regardless of who else might be impacted.
Beckinsale, who’s known well for the Underworld series of movies and other, is a revelation here for anyone who’s familiar with her mostly through those kind of roles. She commands the camera’s attention in a way she doesn’t otherwise, moving around the scenes with a presence that demands attention and firing out rapid fire dialogue with ease and poise. That absolutely lives up to what the campaign was selling.
What was underplayed in the marketing was the role of Chloë Sevigny, who plays Lady Susan’s American friend and confidant. While her character isn’t integral to the plot at all and could easily be lifted out she becomes essential to the audience. It’s to her that Lady Susan keeps returning to talk about how her little schemes and machinations are progressing, allowing the audience a window into Susan’s mind and her thinking. The character is not reflective by nature, so we never see her actually thinking about what she’s done, so the conversations she has with Alicia Johnson – Sevigny’s character – wind up being the closest an internal dialogue or moral reflection that the story allows for. While she’s easily excised from the story, it would actually fall apart without her there, an integral part that’s in contrast to the secondary treatment the character was given in the marketing.
Love and Friendship absolutely lives up to the hype it came out of Sundance with last year. It’s light and breezy and easily overlooked for meatier fare. But it’s so funny and intriguing and features such a good performance by Beckinsale that it becomes a highly-recommended watch, particularly since it’s streaming on Amazon Prime as we speak.