The comediennes of the modern era certainly have a lot to thank Jane Austen for. While her humor is much milder than the Schumers and Dunhams of this modern era, Austen was witty before women showing off their funny bone was socially acceptable. Her undeniable mark on popular culture has inspired a slew of adaptations, from everyone’s favorite '90s teen flick, Clueless, to the deplorably tasteless Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. With the offensiveness of the latter still lingering on our palettes, the latest Austen film adaptation, Love and Friendship, could not have arrived at a better time.
Based on one of Austen’s lesser-known works, the early epistolary novella, Lady Susan, tells the tale of an unscrupulous, newly widowed woman and her quest to marry off her lackluster daughter to a wealthy man and to bag an even richer husband for herself. Written as a series of letters, some have argued that this is perhaps Austen’s wittiest work, which would explain why audiences and critics have been so pleased with the film adaptation.
Directed by Whit Stillman, Love and Friendship finds Kate Beckinsale portraying the beguiling Lady Susan Vernon with her confidante, Alicia Johnson, played by Chloë Sevigny (for those who may have forgotten, Chloë and Kate were also paired up in Stillman’s 1998 cult classic The Last Days of Disco). Without delving too much into the plot, Beckinsale delivers an exquisite performance that captures the charmingly appalling nature of Lady Susan, serving up memorable line after memorable line – my personal favorite being Susan’s description of Alicia’s husband as “too old to be governed and too young to die.” It is this wit that takes center stage in the film and will leave theater-goers with an appreciation of the subtlety of Austen’s humor that is rarely found in modern times.
For Austen aficionados, the film is obviously a must see and will probably spit them out of the theater wishing they could find the essence of Austen in the real world. To figure out how to do that best, we caught up with the Coordinator of the Jane Austen Society of North America’s Northern California Region, Danine Cozzens, for her insights into the latest film and beyond.