‘Love and Friendship’ Review

‘Love and Friendship’ finds the perfect balance between humor, romance, and a delightful dose of Jane Austen’s archetypal Victorian drama.

‘Love and Friendship’ creates a complex web of romantic entanglements.

love and friendship
Photo courtesy of Steven Zang.

Jane Austen practically wrote the Victorian era herself. Her stories have gone on to be adapted many times over (think Pride and Prejudice), and some have even gone on to become some of the most-recognizable novels of the past two centuries. Nevertheless, Austen’s work requires a specific inclination or taste. Between English aristocracy and the romantic inclinations of the mid-to-late 1800s, it might be a stretch for the likes of a contemporary audience.

That is, unless you’ve seen this past June’s Love and Friendship.

Director/writer Whit Stillman has taken Lady Susan, a short fiction story by the author in question, and breathed some fresh air into it with the new-and-improved title Love and Friendship. In this 90-minute period piece, we meet the flirtatious Lady Susan herself (Kate Beckinsale) as she goes to her brother-in-law’s estate in Churchill shortly after her husband’s death. There, she befriends Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), the brother-in-law to her own brother-in-law, Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards). What develops is a wildly entertaining affair of different relationships between different gentries: the Vernons, the DeCourcys, the Johnsons and even the Manwarings.

As you can see, the level of complexity to this indie drama is more than initially meets the eye, with far too many entanglements to even count on one set of hands. Nevertheless, Stillman works such to his advantage, creating an environment that is both theatrical enough for today’s audiences and tribute-worthy of the era that the short fiction is based around. With a supporting cast as strong as Morfydd Clark, Chloë Sevigny and even Stephen Fry, this drama doesn’t seem possible to do any wrong in my book. It surprises and it enthralls in a paradoxical fashion: it’s simple in its complexity, which is only truly understood by self-review.

“I thought it was weird, at first, to have a period piece with so much attention surrounding it,” said Jenna Stuiso, a Nutley native and a long-time fan of independent films. “However, Kate Beckinsale really pulled through as the undeclared villain, and it all came together nicely in the end. I would highly recommend Love and Friendship, even to those who aren’t big fans of the Victorian era.”

Overall, Whit Stillman has created a simple film of a simpler time, yet did so by throwing in the twists and turns of a common romantic caper. Its wit stands upon its homage, and the combination of actors, costumes and set design allow the illusion to be even crisper. It’s enough to make Jane Austen smile.

Love and Friendship is now playing in select theaters worldwide. And, lucky for us, the closest local venue is Bow Tie Clairidge Cinemas in the heart of downtown Montclair, right off of Bloomfield Ave. For a list of show-times and even more info on this acclaimed film, please visit fandango.com today.

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