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Love & Friendship

This adaptation of a Jane Austen novella is thoroughly enjoyable — and funny

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After making his mark with contemporary comedies of manners — many featuring well-off young folks delivering droll observations — director Whit Stillman goes to the source, adapting Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan. The widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), the subject of whispers for her forthright and devious ways, sets herself up at her sniffy in-laws’ and embarks on a series of complicated schemes to find suitable (i.e. moneyed) husbands for herself and her daughter. There are a lot of players, but the two men of significance are the handsome young Reginald (Xavier Samuel) and the blithering idiot Sir James. (Of James, Susan tells her despairing daughter: “He has offered you the one thing of value that he has — his income.”) The handsome film offers pretty costumes and 18th-century locales, but it’s the machinations and deliciously arch dialogue that makes this tidy 90-minute comedy thoroughly enjoyable. Beckinsale is a delight, and Tom Bennett’s portrayal of James’ fidgety motor-mouthing is laugh-out-loud funny.

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