Mark Kermode says that if you have a pulse, you should see this film. I agree wholeheartedly; don’t worry if you don’t like period dramas, ignore the nothing-y title and just watch it because I can promise you’ll enjoy the hell out of it.
Love & Friendship is an adaptation of Jane Austen’s short novel Lady Susan, which follows (unsurprisingly) Lady Susan Vernon. Recently widowed, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) roams the estates of England trying to find a match for her eligible daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark) whilst having a bit of a flirt herself. Her reputation of promiscuity does nothing to prevent young Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) falling for her and believing that he is the only one she’s after. As secrets are whispered between friends and traded in letters, everything eventually has to come spilling out.
So what’s your stereotypical period drama like? Slow? Boring? Full of lengthy dialogue? That’s what I was expecting too; I only went to see the film because I had two free tickets as a birthday treat from Picturehouse and there wasn’t much else on that week. My boyfriend and I had heard good things, so we thought, “Why not?”
And boy, were we glad we did. We were treated to 90 minutes – short for a period drama meaning it never reached a point where you felt its length – of snappy dialogue delivered by an excellently selected cast, all of whom brought something to the film. Each character was individual and some of the side-characters were the most memorable; I can promise you you will never forget James Martin, the bumbling bachelor trying to make a match with his talk of peas and the Twelve Commandments, and you will also witness the most amusing and relatable scene about parents reading a letter from their child together, delivered to us by the wonderful James Fleet and Jemma Redgrave.
Although these peripheral performances must be mentioned, a huge amount of praise must go to Kate Beckinsale; she held the film from start to finish with an engaging portrayal of Lady Susan that, though well-written, could’ve been overbearing or infuriating if played wrong. Luckily, Beckinsale was on top form and shines as the anti-heroine, driving the plot with such speed it’s a wonder the film keeps up. She’s even engaging during lengths of dialogue, such as when she regales her latest exploits to her American friend Alicia (Chloë Sevigny), making the language of the time perfectly understandable by her emphases and making it a joy just to listen to the character.
It was also directed in a very modern fashion, injecting a sense of fun to the period formula and at times, such as the name tags introducing each character or the letter’s text appearing on-screen, a combination of theatricality and meta-ness.
All of its little quirks made it an extremely enjoyable watch, hugely entertaining for the whole family with a positive message about family, love and… friendship. Amongst the endless stream of superhero films and violence-promoting films that seem to show no sign of stopping, Love & Friendship is a welcome change and the perfect watch on a Sunday afternoon that will be funny time after time.