Stillman’s 1790s: “Love & Friendship”

The widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), who determinedly seeks a wealthy husband, is at the center of Whit Stillman‘s Love & Friendship, a 2016 effort based on a short Jane Austen novel Lady Susan. Understandably the woman also wants a wealthy husband for her daughter, Frederica, but here a sinner begins to be revealed in her unfeeling rapacity. Lady Susan, who has had a dalliance with a married man, is bothered by Frederica’s unwillingness to marry a silly gent who is not right for her. Lady Susan herself, however, is not right for the amiable young man, Reginald (Xavier Samuel), who falls for her and is eventually accused by her of untrustworthiness.

I say again: a sinner. Lady Susan’s character delivers a tribute that vice pays to virtue. She is a civilizational hypocrite, eager to smile on manners and education and the Christian faith while settling for the mean objectification of various others. This takes place in 1790s England when religion still has vitality but a very slow secularization is proceeding as well.

In Beckinsale, Samuel, Justin Edwards, Chloe Sevigny and others Love & Friendship proffers fascinatingly successful actors. One is not likely to find fault with the film’s technical-visual design either, and Stillman, I think, has done his best directing so far here. His motion picture is modestly artistic, of course. It’s by Whit Stillman.

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