Who knew that Jane Austin and US writer-director Whit Stillman would turn out to be the perfect pair? Actually, it wasn’t that surprising: Stillman’s films have all been arch comedies of manners to some extent, and reaching back to Austin’s Regency period really just adds some fancy costumes and stately manors to the world of bungling fools and the social climbers who exploit them.
It’s 1790, and the recently widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is a scandalous figure to many. In need of a wealthy husband – plus one for her daughter – she heads to her brother-in- law’s country mansion and goes to work on his wife’s brother (Australia’s own Xavier Samuel). Much scheming and conniving follows, all hilariously and repeatedly justified by Lady Susan to her bestie American Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny) in astoundingly self-centred speeches.
Stillman takes the usual romantic twists and turns of an Austin novel and treats them with a flippancy that brings the comedy to the fore without killing the romance or turning the characters into cartoons – aside from the astoundingly stupid and constantly jolly Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) who at times seem too dim to breathe. The whole thing’s a delight: Stillman and Austin are a perfect match.
Reviewed by Anthony Morris