Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Love & Friendship

With an unexpected amount of satire and snark, Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship impresses audiences with a fresh take on some classic Jane Austen literature (no zombies needed for this one). Love & Friendship is a romantic comedy disguised as a pre-Victorian drama, with the structure and atmosphere of the movie mirroring that of a theatre play. Mixing quick witted dialogue with old-timey English speech in a game of sociopolitical chess creates an enjoyable and unique cinema experience for all viewers of this movie.

In the late 18th century, flirtatious widow Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) finds herself in a social trough following the death of her husband. In a calm struggle for power, she looks to win the heart of young bachelor Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), while at the same time solidifying control over her highly contested daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark). With the powers of various highborn families of England at play, Love & Friendship displays a layered sociopolitical conflict hidden calmly under the guise of one-upmanship in seemingly respectful and proper public affairs, with comedic value often found in these displays throughout the film.

Kate Beckinsale is the clear star of the show, with her portrayal of Lady Susan being both elegant and proper as a woman of stature, as well snappy and sharp-witted as a social player. Beckinsale proves both her flexibility and experience as an actress and creates a strong base performance for the rest of the cast to build off. While some background characters aren't entirely as convincing, the supporting cast does well to build off Beckinsale's lead and impress across the board. Notable performances come from  ChloĆ« Savigny as Lady Susan's amiable yet equally manipulative American friend Alicia Johnson, as well as a surprisingly enjoyable showing from Tom Bennett, who plays an incompetent and socially inept bachelor. While the performances are solid, the real praise should go to the screenplay of Whit Stillman, for creating a Mean Girls-esque vibe of snappiness and banter that we can only hope really existed in these historical times.

As aforementioned, Love & Friendship views somewhat as a theatre play, with character introductions, title cards and musical transitions. The actual scenes of the film are void of any musical score, with authentic classical pieces only accompanying these transitions between different scenes or locations. The simple editing, both musical and otherwise, create a genuine feel to the film, with believable costumes and location adding to this feeling. In all aspects, the movie feels like a bona fide classical English story, while also managing to incorporate the wit and dynamism of modern day.

While at first glimpse Love & Friendship may seem like a standard and possibly boring classical English movie, in practice it is anything but. Combining romance with wit and comedy in a historical setting results in this film feeling both authentic and accurate as well as strangely familiar and modern, and audiences can expect to come out of a viewing with a pleasant feeling of satisfaction, whether they are a fan of the historical genre or not.

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