Love & Friendship, 2016, 2 ¾ stars

Couth frivolity

Smart comedy offers a charming glimpse at Austen-era mirth

Love & Friendship

Image copyright Westerly Films/Amazon Studios

Exclusive to MeierMovies.com, May 25, 2016

Love & Friendship, set in England in the 1790s and based on Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, is a refreshing change of pace from the summer’s action-oriented bill of fare. Directed by Whit Stillman, this is the saucy and amusing, if slight, tale of a widow, Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), who is but one step removed from a Covent Garden nun and twice as conniving in her quest to secure wealthy husbands for both herself and her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), whom she describes as the “greatest simpleton on earth.” She’s not even above random giblet joining if it both tickles her fancy and helps wrest her future from destitution.

Her charm knows no bounds, and her unparalleled sweetness is enough to make one cast up one’s accounts. “How dare you address me, sir!” she rails at a gentleman in public. “Be gone or I will have you whipped.”

“Outrageous,” her friend profers to Susan’s outburst. “Have you never met him?”

“No, I know him well,” Susan presents as her rejoinder. “I would never speak to a stranger like that.”

Conveying a lively understanding of the plot is unnecessary here, as comprehension of the particulars is pointless. This is style over substance, but what fun the style! Especially enjoyable is the hilarious Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, Jane’s pudding-headed Jerry sneak.

“How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?” he asks when confronted at dinner with the culinary novelty of peas, with which he was heretofore apparently unacquainted. In short, he plays the cat’s uncle gringog to a fault.

But Sir James’ lack of intelligence matters little to Jane, who unabashedly describes him as “vastly rich and rather simple.” He – like all other characters she encounters – are merely part of her plot to better her and her daughter’s situation. Indeed, she cares not one whit that her supposed friends view her as both a “fiend” and “the most accomplished flirt in all England.”

This period comedy, which was enthusiastically received at the recent Florida Film Festival, won’t necessarily make a dog laugh, so I wouldn’t urge a viewing tomorrow, or even overmorrow. Nevertheless, I do propose seeing said magic lantern show within a fortnight’s time.

If this review has left you in the dark, I would suggest consulting that most astonishing of 20th-century inventions: the internet. Specifically, visit http://georgiarefugees.tripod.com/oldslang.htm and http://www.mirror.co.uk/news/world-news/a-to-z-guide-to-street-slang-from-the-1700s-1601888.

This review was first published, in capsule form, at www.orlandoweekly.com.

Copyright 2016 © Cameron Meier and Orlando Weekly