“What a shame you married Mr. Johnston: too old to be governable, too young to die.”— Lady Susan Vernon (played by Kate Beckinsale), to American friend Mrs. Johnson (played by Chloë Sevigny), on her far older husband, in Love and Friendship (2016), written and directed by Whit Stillman, adapted from the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen
This past weekend, dying for some cinematic fare besides Captain America vs. Superman, or whatever the latest crossover-hero nonsense out now is called, I used the excuse of a long weekend and the need to escape from the remorseless humidity to see Love and Friendship. It turned out to be a marvelously droll costume comedy about a middle-aged widow looking, as many Jane Austen moms are wont to do, to get her daughter into a marriage that will ensure both their futures.
While the daughter is assuredly a sweet young thing, the widow has the market cornered on the kind of charm that sends men clear around the bend. It helps that said widow is played by Kate Beckinsale, whom a friend of mine (and he knows who he is!!!!!) has classified as a DHBB—i.e., “Dark-Haired British Beauty.”
For far too long, Ms. Beckinsale has languished in flashy, big-budget fare that doesn’t allow her much room to emote—the likes of the Underworld vampire franchise and the equally pale From Here to Eternity knock-off, Pearl Harbor. It’s nice to see her as a Regency-era Circe who, for all her conniving, charms modern audiences as much as the men of her time.
It’s also good to see her back with her co-star of The Last Days of Disco, Ms. Sevigny. Come to think of it, that’s the last film that I think gave Ms. Beckinsale ample room for her talent. Is it any accident that the writer-director of that movie is the same one involved in her current triumph, Whit Stillman?
After his first three critically acclaimed films (Metropolitan, Barcelona, and The Last Days of Disco), Stillman, like Ms. Beckinsale, hit something of a creative trough, with only one film, Damsels in Distress (2011), which quickly sank. With luck (and, perhaps, some friendly prodding from potential financiers of his films), he’ll write another project with Ms. Beckinsale in mind very, very soon. Maybe he can transplant themes from Austen in a modern setting, as he did with his 1990 rookie effort, Metropolitan?
(By the way, this might be a good time for a shout-out to the costume designer of Love and Friendship, Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. It wasn’t until I went searching for an image of Mrs. Beckinsale from this film that I realized how often she appeared in black and in hats that, though ostensibly meant to convey that her character is in mourning, always, uncannily, display her to best advantage.)