I once had the privilege of working with a psychopath. Mind, I did not see it as a privilege–I thought I was losing my mind! I did not know then that I would one day be a writer and find the experience useful.
Confrontation with this amoral woman was impossible. There was always a devious spin on the truth, and if I stood my ground there came a frontal attack so unexpected that, like the unhappy family members in Jane Austen’s Love and Friendship, I was left gaping. She was at fault, entirely. Why then was I the one being accused?
“Facts,” says Lady Susan, “are horrid things.” My former coworker would heartily agree.
If you are expecting the romance of, say, Pride and Prejudice, you might be disappointed. This is more like having Mr. Wickham’s machinations at center stage. Nevertheless, Love and Friendship is comedy of manners at its best, with elegance, wit, and humor.
I wasn’t sure how my oldest son–and particularly my sentimental husband–would respond to this film. I needn’t have worried. Like the rest of the audience, they were captivated by Lady Susan’s subtle spell. It was only a matter of time before the truth caught up to her–and yet we had to know how her diabolical genius would wiggle free.
Ah, but this is Austen. Right does triumph in the end, at least for Susan Vernon’s put-upon relations. Off she goes to weasel a living out of other hapless victims. If we didn’t feel so sorry for them, we would have cheered.
I salute the director, Whit Stillman, for casting a beautiful woman as Lady Susan. Charm and loveliness add significant punch to how awful she is–and this is where Austen adaptations sometimes fall short. Persuasion’s Elizabeth Elliot, for example, is far lovelier than her sister Anne. Because moviegoers might struggle with the heroine being eclipsed, Miss Elliot is often cast as unattractive. Not so with Love and Friendship. Kate Beckinsale is brilliant, at the top of her game, and so are the supporting cast members. There is not a weak performance among them. This film is one I will purchase and watch again, simply for pleasure.
As in all good storytelling, there are truths to be mined. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have worked alongside a psychopath, right? One of the reasons I love Austen is because she is honest about how life works. Lady Susan will never reform or “see the light.” We feel for her family, and when she at last goes on her merry way, our relief is palpable.