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Movie Review

Love and Friendship also known as “Love & Friendship,” “Amor e Amizade,” “Przyjazn czy kochanie?”

MPAA Rating: PG for some thematic elements.

Reviewed by: Jim O'Neill

Better than Average
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Moviemaking Quality:

Primary Audience:
Romance Comedy Drama
1 hr. 32 min.
Year of Release:
USA Release:
January 23, 2016 (festival)
May 13, 2016 (limited)
DVD: September 6, 2016
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Relevant Issues
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TRUE Love—What is true love and how do you know when you have found it? Answer

manipulation of other people


LUST—What does the Bible say about it? Answer

PURITY—Should I save sex for marriage? Answer

Sex, Love and Relationships
Learn how to make your love the best it can be. Discover biblical answers to questions about sex, marriage, sexual addictions, and more.
Featuring: Kate BeckinsaleLady Susan Vernon
Morfydd Clark … Frederica Vernon
Tom Bennett … Sir James Martin
Jenn Murray … Lady Lucy Manwaring
Lochlann O'Mearáin … Lord Manwaring
Sophie Radermacher … Miss Maria Manwaring
Chloë Sevigny … Alicia Johnson
Stephen Fry … Mr. Johnson
more »
Director: Whit Stillman—“Metropolitan” (1990), “The Last Days of Disco” (1998), “Damsels in Distress” (2011)
Producer: Westerly Films
Blinder Films
more »
Distributor: Roadside Attractions

A Whit Stillman film can be more petit four than layer cake. Staged in the one per-center world of débutante balls (“Metropolitan”), velvet rope enclosed dance palaces (“The Last Days of Disco”) or elite college campuses (“Damsels in Distress”), a Stillman comedy of manners is as much manners as it is comedy. When it’s over, I leave the theater feeling underbred, under-read and underdressed, as though I should have worn a bow tie and white bucks to the showing.

In his new film, “Love and Friendship,” Stillman, directing his own adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella, “Lady Susan,” has stepped away from his modern urban niche, and set his latest satire of class and privilege in the 18th Century British countryside. What might seem a stretch for Stillman has proved to be a wise move, and hardly a radical one. The characters in his earlier films often behave as though they are following an Austen code of conduct, sometimes talking about or even quoting the author, who died in 1817. Austen’s characters inhabit a society guided by rules, codes and commandments. Prior Stillman characters may live in a modern world that stretches those boundaries, but they long for Austen era principles. Such norms are often broken because people are broken, but when those norms are abandoned altogether the world becomes an unhappy place, and even worse, an unfunny place. Jane Austen knew this. So does Whit Stillman.

Stillman’s script is the sharpest, best tuned and most incisive of any Austen adaptation I remember, and the direction is nimble in a way that lets the viewer just barely keep up with the action. You never find yourself a step ahead of things the way you might when reading Austen novels or seeing films based on them. When reading or watching “Pride and Prejudice,” does one ever doubt that Miss Elizabeth Bennett will ultimately become Mrs. Fitzwilliam Darcy?

In “Love and Friendship,” there are enough unexpected turns to keep you amazed, and even shocked. This may be a morality tale, but it is not one in which good is necessarily rewarded or its opposite must face comeuppance. Justice ensues, but it tends to be fluid and charged with irony. Even several discussions of the Ten Commandments contain some verbal twists and surprises. An Anglican pastor, who looks young enough to be one of Mr. Chip’s students, explains that The Church of England and the Church of Rome number their Commandments differently. Who knew? Some characters try to sort out the tablets’ “Thou shalts” from its “Thou Shalt Nots,” as if they were engaged in a parlor game. A parent instructs her daughter about how honoring a mother’s request, even if that request happens to be less than honorable, is fundamental not just to the 4th Commandment, but to all of life. Theologians these folks are not—most of them are unfamiliar with Solomon, although impressed when told of his “smartness”—but they long for a belief system, or for one thing, certainly one God, to give their life meaning.

Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsdale), left penniless by her recently deceased husband, is in somewhat dire straits although she is hardly a weak and frightened widow: “one’s plight is one’s opportunity.” She and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) are now dependent on relatives for support and shelter. They move in with brother-in-law Charles (Justin Edwards) and his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell) who has a brother, Reginald (Xavier Samuel). The brother is considerably younger than Lady Susan, but he is wealthy and strikingly handsome. He is also emotionally “calf-like,” slow on the uptake (Solomon doesn’t ring a bell for him either), and ineffective to the degree that he cannot even get a retriever dog to fetch a stick. In other words, he’s an ideal husband. At least he is for Lady Susan, who plays men the way a virtuoso would violin strings. In case her plan A to wed Reginald fails, her plan B (indeed, there are not enough letters to label all her schemes) is to find Frederica a match. For her daughter, she has chosen another rich heir, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennet) who is so bumbling and doltish that he makes Reginald look like Sir Isaac Newton. Sir James is a man who finds wonder in just about everything, even peas: “How jolly! Tiny green balls! What are they called?” He could have sworn there were twelve Commandments, so when he is informed that there are only ten, he sets about deciding which two he can now drop, as if his gray matter had room for even ten.

Frederica, unsurprisingly, rebels against Sir James’ proposal and finds herself at odds with her mother. Susan tells Frederica that she wishes she let her go hungry in the past so that she might comprehend better the seriousness of their current financial predicament.

The performances are splendid. Kate Beckinsdale is especially captivating as Susan Vernon, a lady with a past (“the most accomplished flirt in all England”) who uses her present state of affairs as a way to lay the groundwork for ruling the future. Connivance and deceit haven’t had this much allure since Scarlet O’Hara corralled men to save her land and Sharon Stone steered the police of her trail in “Basic Instinct.” Lady Susan’s methods raise a few questions, and more than a few eyebrows, but one cannot help rooting for her even if just to see what other ruse she might have up her lace sleeves.

Chloe Sevigny is another standout. She plays Alicia Johnson, Lady Susan’s American friend and confidante who finds that being close to Susan gets her into constant tussles, especially with her husband (a sublime Stephen Fry) who threatens to send her back to Connecticut, a backwater where one “could be scalped,” if she persists in associating with “that woman.”

Despite their duplicitous parlor games, Lady Susan and her cohorts live by and respect rules, even when they are pushing the envelope. They never protest or rebel against society’s boundaries. Not Bronte heroines, and certainly not Thelma or Louise, they would never let their passions get the better of them and throw away what they have and who they are. That would not only be tragic; it would be in bad taste.

You might scratch your head when you see how some of the characters ultimately match up, but there is no doubt that Jane Austen and Whit Stillman are, in the end, a perfect match. The movie portrays the traditional in an instructive and delightful way. And in these times, that is something radical. “Love and Friendship” is much more than a dainty confection. It’s a banquet, one to be savored and celebrated. I tip my hat—a top hat if I had one—to Whit Stillman.

Violence: Minor / Profanity: None / Sex/Nudity: Moderate

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Viewer CommentsSend your comments
Positive—This film is not bloody, there is no murder, no swearing, no sex, no “amazing special effects”. It is just a good story about amusing people and events. Jane Austen was the brilliant author of this story. Beautiful costuming of the period, gorgeous estates, like taking a peek back into the history of the times. The plots are complicated and contrived, as Miss Susan manipulates people and lovers.

I and others in the theater laughed out loud at the shenanigans as Miss Susan tries to land a rich husband. What a conniver—played perfectly. The cast is perfect. I loved this movie but some may find it boring. If you like a good story about interesting—and flawed—people, you will like this amusing look back. Especially funny are the comments about the Bible and the “twelve commandments Moses brought down from the mountain.”
My Ratings: Moral rating: Good / Moviemaking quality: 5
—Maggie Hays, age 69 (USA)
Positive—I’m a huge Jane Austen fan, and so, even though it was here for only a week, I went to see it 3 times! “Love and Friendship” is based on a comedic novella called Lady Susan that Jane Austen wrote when she was 19 or 20 in 1794. I don’t believe it was ever published, but it is called an epistolary novel, because it was in letter format. This film is uniquely and creatively presented. For example, a few times during the film, words or open captions are shown on the screen. These are for the introduction of the characters and also when letters are read, which I believe is to remind the viewer of the original letter format of this story and perhaps how Jane wrote it.

As anyone familiar with Jane Austen’s works knows, her good characters are really good and frequently naïve, which causes them to be taken advantage of by the antagonists, who are really bad!! Adultery and fornication are present in all her stories, it seems, as she tries to teach lessons through the bad decisions the characters make. Good characters are always rewarded in the end, after being tormented by the evil characters.

In the story of “Love and Friendship,” Lady Susan is one such character, a middle-aged lady who as a seductress uses manipulation and reverse psychology to bring happiness for herself and her daughter. There’s really nothing good to say about her, but, somehow at the end, you feel she has intended the outcome all along! This is why I could not rate this movie as good, because the implication is that she is engaging in adultery, although it is never shown on screen, only intimated.

The Bible and Christian references in the film are really excellent, which include Solomon and the 10 commandments. Also, one character mentions that his father is a Christian, and so the prospect of death is not sad or cold, indicating that he believes in Heaven. Frederica, the daughter, is shown in church and meets the young minister, a cute and kind person, who is presented very positively. There is no swearing at all and no vulgarity other than the indication that Lady Susan is engaging in inappropriate behaviour.

This movie is not for everyone, but I’d recommend it. It contains subtle British humour, and Lady Susan’s tricks are almost subliminal in their nature. This is another reason why I went to see it more than once, so that I could truly understand the complex situations and relationships between the characters. The one “silly” or “blockhead” character, that is engaged to Frederica, is hard to listen to, as he does go and on so, but it’s actually quite funny, at the same time.

If you are a Jane Austen fan, you will love it, but keep in mind it’s a slower film, with an emphasis on the human relationships and dynamics. I just love the British clothes and scenery, too, which was filmed in Ireland, I believe. Interestingly enough, this movie has had a very positive response from critics. This surprised me, as usually we do not see eye to eye! One of the strengths of the film is that it’s not very predicable, and we are all surprised by parts of the ending, which rarely happens in romantic type films. There were not a lot of people in the theatre when I went, but there was a lot of chuckling by the viewers who were there. I will definitely be adding this to my Blu-Ray/DVD collection.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4½
—Kathy Pj, age 56 (Canada)
Positive—I am a big fan of Jane Austen, and I have read her novels, as well as Lady Susan, the source material for this film. It’s a fantastic period piece and quite funny to boot. Sir James Martin practically steals the show as the socially awkward rich guy who thought that the Churchill estate was an area with a church and a hill (now that’s comedy gold). There isn’t a whole lot of objectionable content (hey, it’s Jane Austen), other than implying that a female character has an affair with a married man. If you liked the 1995 “Pride and Prejudice” miniseries, you’ll love this movie. While I don’t think it’s Oscar material, I actually do hope it picks up some nominations in the near future.
My Ratings: Moral rating: Better than Average / Moviemaking quality: 4
—Shannon H., age 34 (USA)
Negative—This is just a soap, I’m sorry I’ve seen it. I’m quite familiar with Austen’s work, and I love it, but this is not typically Austen, more Dickens, in its brutal display of all that is wrong with people. At least with Dickens you know that the bad people die or go to jail, and the good people get a happy ending. Not so with this film. I can not understand the main review of this film. I can easily *not* root for Susan, because she is immoral throughout the film. Rooting for an immoral person? Horrible. Respecting rules? Only pushing the envelope? The film clearly suggests that Susan has a relationship with a married man, and at the end of the film expects a child from that same man, while just gotten married herself. No real judgment in the film about her conduct.

And where is the justice in the silly James Martin getting married to the immoral Susan? How can a display of injustice and immorality without judgment be entertaining? In a documentary, news item or newspaper article, it can be informative, but this is a film, supposed to be entertaining. Don’t be fooled by the costumes, landscapes and houses of a period drama. Judge the content for what it is. This is just a contemporary soap. I’m sorry I’ve seen it…
My Ratings: Moral rating: Offensive / Moviemaking quality: 3
—Jmvb, age 51 (Netherlands)

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