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Cinema Signal: MOBILE version |
. "Love and Friendship"

Not since "Les Liaisons dangereuses" has aristocratic misbehavior been as much entertaining deviersion as this study in Victorian ambition, deceit and guile, albeit without the graphic seduction. One of the similarities is the literary categorization of both as "epistolary" stories, that is, employing the device of a series of letters, or epistles. Another is the scheming woman in the world of high privilege seeking a berth. That theme alone has enough prior company to call it a sub-genre.

Adapted and directed by Whit Stillman, based on Jane Austen's "Lady Susan" (1794), the issue is who Frederica Vernon (Morfydd Clark) will marry. The problem is that she, poor child, having just been expelled from boarding school, thinks the choice will be hers.

What she's incapable of taking into account is what role her mother, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale pretty much at her best), whose fortunes have been eradicated by having created a scandal with a married man, will play in her future.

At the moment Lady Susan and her lady-in-waiting Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny, "Lovelace") have lodged themselves at Churchill, her brother-in-law's country estate, a multi-roomed habitat of immense proportions. This locale provides a proper setting to attract the sort of men who might provide the sort of security she envisions.

We soon see that she's got the looks and the manipulative chops to influence everyone around her by taking every advantage of the courtship mores of her time. With the strategies of a behavioral genius, she's soon having long walks on the grounds to give handsome heir Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) a reason for his attentive visits.

From a 21st century perspective, she's a con person who gets what she wants. The attraction is in the manner of getting and the principles that must be compromised.

Beckinsale ("Pearl Harbor") is wickedly devious with her frisky composure and masterful manipulation. The trick is to make it stylish and naughtily comedic enough to maintain audience sympathy for an inscrutable demon, which is actually a bit of an acting tightrope to walk. I think most filmgoers will stay on her side for the sport and ultimate harmlessness of it, as I did.

Acting-wise Sevigny isn't her equal but Fry is the ideal lord of the manor. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh's costumery is as much of a draw as the actors who wear it so well and in which they take such obvious pleasure. I sense it claimed a good part of the budget, which was a very good call.

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                                                                              ~~  Jules Brenner  

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