REVIEW: Love and Friendship

Looking for a new film to watch this winter break? Check out the the third installment of ET’s mid-year movie guide, by Liam McNally.

Whenever you watch a classic British film, you can always play a game of ‘Where have I seen those actors before?’ Usually the answer is Agatha Christie adaptations or Doctor Who but another common answer is the seemingly-endless supply of BBC-produced period pieces based on Jane Austen, the works of the Brontësisters and other luminaries of British literature. Love and Friendship is no different in this respect, featuring Kate Beckinsale in the central role, Stephen Fry in a minor role and host of familiar British faces in the rest.

Where Love and Friendship diverges from the norm is in stepping a little away from the more traditional adaptation. It doesn’t treat the source material with the sort of reverence one would expect. Instead it translates the cutting wit and social commentary natural to Jane Austen’s writings to a modern audience. In doing so, it steps a little away from a straight adaptation but steps much closer to the heart and truth of Austen’s writing.

This film honours the satire and commentary more than the minute details and consequently sets itself as a hilarious comedy. The manners of high society come in for plenty of humorous treatment as the cunning and manipulative Lady Susan is let loose in a society altogether unprepared for her.

Lady Susan, for whom the original novella by Austen is named, executed plan after plan to see her way through the world. Her plotting would rival that of House of Cards Francis Underwood (or Urquhart in the British original). The constant planning and manipulation makes the film harder to follow than it might have been but also adds to its charm. Few people can match wits with Susan – the witless moneyed aristocracy suffering particularly from her actions.

The stylistic choices taken in this film all add up to a deeply satisfying whole. Text appears on screen when characters are reading letters aloud, offering more substance to some already well-executed jokes. The irreverent tone keeps the text alive after all these years and may manage to convince a new generation of the merit in Austen’s work.

Less academic and sterile than some adaptations, this shows the nature of Austen’s writings as much as it does the details. Lovingly crafted, this plays up the humour more than most and appears as much akin to a love-letter to Austen’s writing as it does an adaptation. It offers her texts to a newer audience without playing to the same gimmicks as productions like Pride and Prejudice and Zombies.

This film is an absolute must to any who love the classics, British comedy, or just advanced agricultural methods (you’ll understand when you see the film).

4/5 stars.

Reviewed by Liam McNally.

Love & Friendship is still screening at Palace Nova, Adelaide.