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Period Hipster: Whit Stillman’s Love And Friendship (2016) – DVD review

September 21, 2016 by Simon Kinnear in At Home with 0 Comments

Stillman goes period-hipster, bringing his flair for urbane comedy into the world of Jane Austen and giving the stately home genre a cheeky upgrade.

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Love And Friendship
(Whit Stillman, 2016)

There has always been something old-fashioned about Whit Stillman’s interest in societal tribes and elegant bon mots, so it’s perhaps inevitable that he would be drawn to the work of Jane Austen.  Yet there’s also been the nagging sense about Stillman that he’s something of a hipster, so he was never going to adapt Sense And Sensibility or Pride And Prejudice.

Nope. Instead, he’s chosen the little-known novella Lady Susan, but rechristened his film after a different Austen story – both unpublished during the writer’s lifetime.  That gives Stillman’s film a sense of discovery and freedom, of something rather unusual breaking out of the period drama ghetto.  It’s there in the seemingly spontaneous shooting style: Stillman’s location scouts have found grand old houses for him to shoot in, but the director has largely kept his camera discreet, as if the entire film is being made on the sly during a public tour of the premises.

So the film achieves a remarkable duality between freshness and formality that suits the story, far more mischievous than most Austen in its manipulative heroine.  Lady Susan is a brilliant creation, adroitly played by Kate Beckinsale.  As in The Last Days Of Disco, Stillman has located a wicked heart in the actress that suits her far better than blandly heroic or romantic roles – and then also provided Beckinsale’s sparring partner in the earlier film, Chloe Sevigny, to underscore that period-hipster vibe.

So the film is a droll walkabout through sex and status, and the importance of wealth to both, with Lady Susan parachuted into a typically stuffy class comedy so she can shake it up.  Here, the characteristics of the title are locked in a parasitic relationship – friendships only exist to help keep Lady Susan’s love-life healthy.

Stillman has huge fun satirising the attitude, the look, and the language of his chosen genre, with some great performances – especially by James Fleet – full of finely balanced dialogue where just about everybody is witty but some are less conscious than others that the joke may be on them.   The stand-out is Tom Bennett, giving an outrageous parody of Colin Firth as the film’s least witty (or most dim-witted) character.

Love And Friendship is released on Blu-ray and DVD on Monday 26th September.

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