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Love and Friendship - Film Review

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Published July 8th 2016
Jane Austen Redux

Take the title (Love and Freindship) from one of Jane Austen's unpublished stories, change it to modern spelling and tack it on to another Austen story (Lady Susan) written when she was 20, set it in Newbridge Desmense, a stunningly beautiful early Georgian estate in County Dublin, and get highly skilled writers to transform a series of letters into a beautifully crafted film script.

As with the other Austen novels, money and the pursuit of money is the sub-text .

Subtitles introduce the characters, and allow us to read the contents of key letters.

Kate Beckinsale, as Lady Susan, appears as a beautiful widow with a respectable name and a less than respectable reputation. With no money she has to rely on the generosity of relatives, but is determined to leverage her beauty and manipulative skills, and her marriageable daughter to redress her poverty.

She has already had to flee one aristocratic home having been perceived as significantly too close to its married host. Hence when she arrives at "Churchill" the women are united in distrust of her, and the men counsel skepticism of unverified gossip.

And certainly she is beautiful, and an accomplished actress. We the audience are allowed to eavesdrop on her conversations with her companion and co-schemer, and hence we can observe how she becomes the puppet-mistress, and manipulates the handsome eligible bachelor Reginald, and less successfully endeavours to marry off her daughter to a wealthy foolish suitor, Sir James Martin, played by Tom Bennett, whose outrageous idiocy comes close at times to stealing the film whether in his difficulty in handling the word "Church-hill", his amazement of the little green balls which turn out to be peas, or his ebullient over enthusiastic leaping and bobbing at the family dance.

Steven Fry has not much to do in this film, as the husband of Lady Susan's confidante, but as always he does it very well, adding gravitas to his warning to his American spouse that "the Atlantic passage is very cold at this time of year".

The whole film owes something, we are told, to Michael Caine's "Dirty Rotten Scoundrels". This reviewer sees more homage to Oscar Wilde, and to the later Austen.

Certainly there are a great many "bon mots" and elegantly turned phrases, such as Steven Fry's character being described as " too old to be governable: too young to die".

Kate Beckinsale (as Lady Susan) creates a multi-faceted and unforgettable portrayal of a brilliant and unscrupulous woman, determined to use whatever methods she can to climb the greasy pole of wealthy society.

This is an engaging and delightful movie, which also manages to be a subversive commentary on the society of its time. It is a highly polished, elegant, mannered comedy of manners, which sits well with the other classic Austen films, but adds a sharply acerbic edge all of its own.
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Why? Brilliance, wit, period drama
When: Current
Where: Cinemas across Australia
Cost: $18
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