Kate Beckinsale stars in Whit Stillman’s Love and Friendship
Whit Stillman makes literary movies, specifically Jane Austenesque movies, so no one is surprised that his new movie Love and Friendship is an adaptation of a Jane Austen novella, Lady Susan. If there is anything Whit Stillman fans are used to, it is waiting. Since his first movie Metropolitan came in 1990, he’s made a total of five (and one TV pilot, The Cosmopolitans on Amazon–are they doing a full season?), for a five-year wait between productions. This is why we have memorized his movies.
On the other hand his last movie Damsels in Distress came out in 2012, so maybe he’s picking up the pace. In Unserious Austen, Adam Thirlwell nails what we love about Whit Stillman movies:
Sure, the surface may be all frivolity and flippancy, a high bourgeois/aristocratic setting. Such archness and such a setting can make it easy to see these films as exercises in the unserious unserious. But Stillman’s gravity comes from the way he both understands the terrors of social relations—the pursuit of love and friendship—and also admires all strategies in artifice that might soften these terrors, subvert the tyranny of misinterpretation, and restore a version of utopia. Against the malice of the social, he places a range of tactics: optimism, elegance, tradition, invented selves and accents, the desperate maintenance of outmoded or contradictory ideals. So what if an ideal is absurd! And his highest ideal is eloquence.
While waiting to see Love and Friendship, I read Lady Susan, which Auntie Jane wrote when she was 18 (but wasn’t published till after her death). It’s a 64-page novella in the form of letters between the widowed Lady Susan Vernon, her friend Alicia Johnson, her disapproving sister-in-law, the mother of the sister-in-law, the brother of the sister-in-law who becomes smitten with Lady Susan, and other characters whom we could consider Lady Susan’s patsies. There are wonderful moments of bitchiness and hilarity in Auntie Jane’s novels; in this shorter work the bitchery is more concentrated and less subtle. You end up rooting for Lady Susan—”the most accomplished coquette in England”—despite her conniving, manipulative ways because she’s leveraging her limited power in a society where she’s supposed to shut up until her husband lets her speak.
I wanted to write out all the letters, but I have work to do. Maybe table it for a future project.