Love & Friendship : A Film Review

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Directed by Whit Stillman, Cast, Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell, Morfydd Clark, Jemma Redgrave, Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Justin Edwards, Jenn Murray, Stephen Fry, Chloë Sevigny.

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Funny Sexy Witty

Love & Friendship based on a short Jane Austen novella she wrote before “Pride and Prejudice” is witty, funny and entertaining, just like its heroine Lady Susan Vernon, played with fiendish electrifying linqiustic precision and pace by Kate Beckinsale. She plays a young widow, seemingly for appearance sake in mourning but is requiring to cast her fortunes to others to furnish both a home, her in-laws, and a position to encourage a future which serves both her and her daughter who is at boarding school.cinitially for appearances she is accompanied by a young lady in waiting who is made welcome and uncomfortable in equal measure.  The daughter Frederica, played with authentic youthful coquettish innocence by Morfyyd Clark and has a large part to play in the chess game Lady Susan has to set before us and enact.  The deployment of coy attractive bewitching ‘genius’ is virtually unstoppable and suitably preposterous given her skills.  Her aim is a lover of high marriage and untouchable impeachablility, less her aims become known.  Some things have a strangeway of turning out and Jane Austen was never shy in geometric manouvres to manifest the Mansfield Parks and Pride and Predjudices of this world reliant on the relations of the genders.

The roll call opens with frames of each Kate Beckinsale as Lady Susan Vernon, Chloë Sevigny as Alicia Johnson, Xavier Samuel as Reginald DeCourcy, Stephen Fry as Mr. Johnson, Emma Greenwell as Catherine Vernon, Morfydd Clark as Frederica Vernon, James Fleet as Sir Reginald DeCourcy, Jemma Redgrave as Lady DeCourcy, Tom Bennett as Sir James Martin, Justin Edwards as Charles Vernon, Jenn Murray as Lady Lucy Manwaring.

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Bomb proof Kate Beckinsale

There are seldom roles made to conquer for women in the Jane Austen repertoire/cannon given the screen adaptations repeated with routine rapidity leaving few remaining but as this involves a novella and lesser performed piece it is mastered or mistresses by Kate Beckinsale to put down a marker for assured brilliance in the body of work achieved by numerous illustrious British actors; I’m reminded of the feminist need to drop the ‘ess’ Doctoress etc.,  and it merits no small mention being the first of many such superb performances by the entire cast.

The story is a typical lesson in the mores of the Middle and Upper echelons of English society at the mercy of the match making requirements of the period.  1760 thereabouts.  Set in England, filmed entirely it appears in Ireland, Powerscourt, Howth Castle and with a ‘London’ giving identity to Edward Street and (Upper) Seymour Street, -.mentioned a few times previously in my reviews as firstly Turners first abode in London, also the swimming pool used in the ‘vomit’ scene in a Monty Python movie – on an indoor – scaffolded out – five aside pitch I used to frequent in West London – it shapes as the location of the abode Lady Susan ‘retires to for plotting liaisons and conflicts of the heart which reach crescendo in London and disapate just as the designs require as acted by Lady Susan Vernon.

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Period gender Portmanteau

It is a portmanteau piece of the highest quality.  A tale of the two sexes in ever alarming relations or misintended liaisons in meaning and practice. Every nuance and detail of speech, setting, period, costumery is superbly realised.  The interiors are so simple understated and unfussybas to distinguish it as exemplary in taste and period refinement.  The smaller furniture designed for the Ladies of the house, and the larger more flamboyant pieces for the Gentlemen of the house are carefully utilised to invoke status. There are hints in a woman to woman relationship with Alicia, Chloe Sevigny, whose husband is the buffoonish Mr Stephen Fry, which is purely a act of conceit and further manipulative guile by Lady Susan. Lady Susan also makes a habit of discarding most decorum regarding furniture and when possible purloins the larger higher status items.

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There are other occasions she is conversely suitably demuring to her hosts and as with the widescreen framing throughout of conversations, of which the film compacts into high density attention grabbing eloquence joyous; for the audience, reams of vocabulary and inferences of high restoration comedy demanding your distillation.  Many still scenes of interaction are employed as the customary vignettes the story relies on. She cups her palm in resting a tea cup in reflection of her host, or holds her hands, withdrawing into a closed finger grasp of meaning no ‘grabbing’ or tokenistic intentions. The acting is not short of finer befitting signals as both guide and convincer. Lady Vernon is in scenes often eye catching beautifully dressed, so when she appears, the allure of the whole essence of her style is captivatingly instantaneous.  Some dresses are costumes Alexander McQueen would have been proud to have tailored. The richness of colour and vibrancy is at times visually stunning.  No doubt this is a fully intended contrasting approach once again delighting the audiences expectations of more intense jaw dropping scurility as another twist and orchestration bounces like a diminuendo round a stately gathering between acts.  Morescandalous intrigue to follow. It’s mere seconds away. Keep paying attention to the outpouring of words and the nuances of facial reticence Kate Beckinsale has to offer.  Many opening of scenes are like miniature plays unfolding in another form of the female skillset outwitting and unexpectedly barely believable.  Still they are thoroughly intact by the close of each scene as being pure genius in completing the tableau, for the time being.

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Nobody’s Fool De Courcy.

Few Irish people will not be aquainted with the origins of the De Courcy family, it’s antecedents lying in our own Carrickfergus Castle circa 1166 (when the first invasion of Ireland by the English – troops and other invasions occured periodically we’re told – Lady Theresa Villiers the latest incumbent) and tradition of folklore has this Hugenouet dynasty come via. Somerset; the films De Courcy’s somehow hail from Kent.  It being where Churchill (Church and hill crop up a lot) after Blenhiem lived.  At Westerham, no Churchill estate per se.  The De Corcy’s of Irish fame and obvious later fortune were indeed quite clever as assets to Ireland, however with the minor oversight of being authors of a policy to monetarise Ireland with its own coinage – the John De Courcy Silver farthings in public view can be seen in a small undistinguished case next to the large photograph of Carrickfergusfergus Castle in the Ulster Museum.  Quite simply the most informative exhibit piece in the Museum informing you of the origins (money) of England’s transgressions into Ireland.  Historical fact unsequestered.

Ross McDonnell

Father Son and Daughter. Country hosts.

Son. Xavier Samuel plays. Reginald De Corcy to his fathers scrutinous oversight, being the only male descendant, brilliantly.  He is the foil for Lady Susan who establishes a bridgehead on this young mans feelings and desire for intelligent intercourse of the non physical kind though it undoubtedly features in his often troubled mind.  His intelligence is almost a match for Lady Susan.  When he is vexed; it’s a frequently occurring theme, he asks the most direct and simply intelligent questions he can afford.    He asks them often. It is treated nearly everytime by Lady Susan like an in her prime Serena Williams as a second serve slam dunk.  His intelligence and own dignity befitting his junior age to his attendee is never lessened as he knows he is in the throes of a contest of like minded – with one or two key exeptions – compatriates.  Her calumny is greatest and with it constructs the greatest hurt.

Father. The father. James Fleet as Sir Reginald De Courcy is something of a half lit lamp.  In contrast their is a very consumate scholarly husband to the De Courcy daughter whose beauty is for appearances miscmatched with her older husband – a common enough occurrence in these tales – and his speed of thought is often incisive when it comes to the linguistic entanglements that arise.  His wisdom is softly delivered without any pretense of affected impress.  It is another quality performance.  With Catherine De Courcy there is an affectionate wish to please and entire while she also is continually using her under utilised intelligence in deciphering the nuances of relationships and movements of those around her.

Daughter. Emma Greenwell as Catherine is herself an unsung beauty. With a friend of some confidence in Lady Susan she, Catherine, with her blond hair and dazzling good looks as counterpoint to the sophisticat, whose dresses and hair style steal the scene in Lady Susan’s favour always and as directorial intended.  While Lady Susan’s tresses cascade in ordered disorder with black curls dancing, Catherine’s appear to just sit and her stack of hair looks provincial as the designer has taken care to pronounce for us.  It is virtually flawless in the making though one or two scenes are edited to the quick. The shortness of some intros misses a beat as for example, a servant has broken into a walk from a standing start without the start visible or with a walk upstairs also too quick off the mark.  These are trivial matters andcitvonly gets a mention as nothing in film making can ever be perfect nor should it be.

Martindale

Throughout the film crops up a character, Sir James Martin admirably played by Tom Bennett  who is the but of jokes and with directness Reginald De Courcy defines as a blockhead, the non-de-plume of period custom.  His unstoppable nincompoopery is that of a special skill of its own.  He is scarcly believable in overstating, understating, mis remarking and chasing incidents in his head down the stately blind alleys he boldly interjects upon. Such is his reputation the females scatter like the queens corgis when Prince Philip enters a room. His overtures for Frederika are the mainstay of his large fortunes necessary disposal.   His eye for agricultural curation is singularly acute as certain observations he makes testify to.

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Interior Piece of England

Observing England through its Downtown Abbey’s its Jane Austen blockbuster books and the Wolf Hall take down, erroneously of Roman Catholisicm is hard core history gone soft.  Like The a Recent Hollow Crown it’s very Stacey and multi-layered skillfully portrayed craftsmanship but it leaves a hollow soul in the heart of the real dark periods England would try to emerge from and post war is still seen as a time for reflection on those two world wars. It’s the kind of foil to the Recent Peaky Blinders view which has some traction. Sunset Song was a recent historical film which stood out in terms of credibility and though this film is obviously a piece on society and morality at a certain time it is seen by some as real time struggle of the gender differences and often seen as reflecting feminism.  It could not be further from that as it puts women in a place where men often are as manipulating and often self seeking in their desires and wishes.  Feminism is about the right to identity whatever form on the spectrum it happens to take and thankfully certain bigotry is being lost to the fresh approach to the hackneyed views, almost 1700’s in perception and are towards a new enlightenment.

Conclusion ####4

From beginning to end this film transports you to an illogical but presenting universe and the formidable manouvres of male and female in search of or retention of status and the rigour of polite society is challenged by the genders compromises and we are entertained with a very particular core group of British acting talent, added to which Chloe Sevigny holds her head high and it constructs the period piece so well known and sometimes well worn delivery of familiar novels.  This of course being the strident workings of Jane Austen reacting to her times and delivering what were held to be unspoken truths or rather little discussed or considered oppressive elements most severely felt by women and then in the working classes which this work avoids. It is a brilliantly beautifully observed piece and should appeal on many levels.

 

John Graham

25 May 2016

Belfast

On at QFT from 27 May through to and including the 9 June 2016.

 

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