Sydney Film Festival Review: Love and Friendship (PG) (UK, 2016)

Sophisticated and Austen-worthy, Love and Friendship is a must see. Based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novella Lady Susan, the film centres on the original story’s namesake, played by Kate Beckinsale, a widow with a chain of scandals following her. She arrives at her in-laws’ home and is in search of husbands for her and her daughter. And she would do anything to get what she wants.

Despite being a period film and having an anti-heroine for a protagonist, Lady Susan’s story makes you root for her. She is a poor woman, a single mother, grasping whatever straws are left to survive a repressive society. The film is not your typical romance – much of it focuses on Lady Susan’s calculating movements.

Living up to Austen’s style, the dialogue is witty and sharp that you won’t lose focus. Beckinsale’s return to Austenland (she was in BBC’s Emma) was like a homecoming. She played Lady Susan with so much strength and soul without coming off as dramatic and a one-sided scheming character, making you feel confronted about your place in the world.

Also of mention is Tom Bennett, who is hilarious as the lovingly dim-witted Sir James Martin and Chloë Sevigny as Lady Susan’s American friend Alicia Johnson, who serves as her sounding board. Also look out for a small role from Stephen Fry as Alicia’s husband and Australian actor Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCourcy, the object of Lady Susan’s “calculating movements”.

Bursting with style and wit, director Wilt Stillman manages to wrap up the story with a satisfactory end, leaving you wanting for more. If you love period dramas that are more than romance, and characters with ulterior motives and sharp tongues, then this film is for you.

Review Score: FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)

Love & Friendship was the closing film of this year’s Sydney Film Festival.