Skip to main content

How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?

Love & Friendship
(2016)

(SPOILERS) I’m no Austenite, unless you count Steve (not the stone cold one, rather the bionic chap), so I probably should have little adverse to say about this creative adaptation of Lady Susan by Whit Stillman (a director I have much admiration for, albeit somehow his last feature, Damsels in Distress, has passed me by, and it’s not exactly as if he has a profuse filmography). But, as garlanded with praise as Love & Friendship has been, and deserving as much of it is, I’m not quite sure the prodigious innuendo packed into the ending’s pants isn’t a little out of place.


I’ll be upfront and admit I was decidedly not bowled over by Kate Beckinsale’s raved-about lead performance. I can’t think of a performance from Kate that did merit raves, though; she’s probably the most nondescript franchise lead in the business (that’s Underworld, just so we’re clear). I seem to recall she was decent enough in Stillman’s Last Days of Disco, but there, as here, Chloe Sevigny made a much more lasting impression.


Beckinsale’s turn is sufficient, but Lady Susan is such a gift of a part, a lofty manipulator of others who believes she’s always right, even, or especially, when she’s flat out wrong (be it misquoting The Bible – which she does frequently – or blaming her own indiscretions on others for reading her conniving mail, mail that is a means to conducting an illicit affair), that someone else would surely have made it truly memorable. This needed an actress who would make Susan’s deceits and indiscretions something to be relished, for all their moral turpitude, but instead we get a delivery that’s as stiff the character’s unlikely eighteen century Botox. Nevertheless, Beckinsale is unable to defeat the best of Stillman’s dialogue:


Man on Street: Lady Susan, Lady Susan!
Lady Susan: How dare you! How dare you address me, sir!
Man on Street: But Lady Susan!
Lady Susan: Be gone, sir, or I will have you whipped!
Alicia: Outrageous! You’ve never met him?
Lady Susan: No, I know him well. I would never speak to a stranger like that.


Lady Susan has been contriving to secure husbands for herself and her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), on the grounds of their precarious financial state (“We don’t live. We visit”). To this end, she hatches all manner of subterfuge and dalliances, pursuing the much younger Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel), who is in thrall to her, to the particular disapproval of his father Sir Reginald (James Fleet, outstanding). Sir Reginald has good reason, since – although offscreen – Lady Susan is carrying on with Lord Manwaring (‘a divinely attractive man” as the introductory character sketches wittily inform us), much to the fury of his shrewish wife Lady Lucy (Jenn Murray).


Frederica: You must have notice. He’s very silly.

Frederica, meanwhile, has no desire for her intended, Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), “A bit of a rattle”, prone to talking bollocks whenever he opens his mouth, be it on the subject of peas (“How jolly. Tiny green balls. What are they called?”), the art of composition (“Cooper the poet?”: “He also writes verse”) and the Twelve Commandments (told that there are only ten, he misunderstands: “Really? Only ten must be obeyed? Really. Which to take off?”). Bennett runs away with the film whenever he’s on screen, taking evident delight in essaying a silly (very silly) arse. He’s also married into cuckoldry come the conclusion (mother and daughter swap intended in an effectively light-brush manner), informed by Lady Susan the very morning after they wed that she is expecting; it transpires that Lord Manwaring, whom Sir James thinks the world of, has been staying with them for the past week, and will continue to lodge with them.


The jovial buffoon seems to be implicitly awarded his just desserts by a line in which he claims it is fine for a man to have an affair while it would simply be inconceivable for a woman to do likewise; this comes across as Stillman’s hasty justification for the cruel fate he bestows upon Sir James. More than that, though, while I’d never accuse Stillman, the most reserved and mannered of filmmakers outside of Wes Anderson, of ‘sexing up” material, foisting overt innuendo onto Austen’s novel (which the director considered “so flawed”) makes for a scenario that could only really be more explicit if Beckinsale were played by Babs Windsor, Sir James by Charles Hawtrey and Lord Manwaring by Sir Sid of James.


That aside, Love & Friendship is as thoroughly witty, precise and amusingly edited as we’ve come to expect of Stillman, and the constraints of the period piece clearly suit a director who is most comfortable when his surroundings are buttoned down and eccentrically formal.



Agree? Disagree? Mildly or vehemently? Let me know in the comments below.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

You're not only wrong. You're wrong at the top of your voice.

Bad Day at Black Rock (1955)
I’ve seen comments suggesting that John Sturges’ thriller hasn’t aged well, which I find rather mystifying. Sure, some of the characterisations border on the cardboard, but the director imbues the story with a taut, economical backbone. 

She was addicted to Tums for a while.

Marriage Story (2019)
(SPOILERS) I don’t tend to fall heavily for Noah Baumbach fare. He’s undoubtedly a distinctive voice – even if his collaborations with Wes Anderson are the least of that director’s efforts – but his devotion to an exclusive, rarefied New York bubble becomes ever more off-putting with each new project. And ever more identifiable as being a lesser chronicler of the city’s privileged quirks than his now disinherited forbear Woody Allen, who at his peak mastered a balancing act between the insightful, hilarious and self-effacing. Marriage Story finds Baumbach going yet again where Woody went before, this time brushing up against the director’s Ingmar Bergman fixation.

She writes Twilight fan fiction.

Vampire Academy (2014)
My willingness to give writer Daniel Waters some slack on the grounds of early glories sometimes pays off (Sex and Death 101) and sometimes, as with this messy and indistinct Young Adult adaptation, it doesn’t. If Vampire Academy plods along as a less than innovative smart-mouthed Buffy rip-off that might be because, if you added vampires to Heathers, you would probably get something not so far from the world of Joss Whedon. Unfortunately inspiration is a low ebb throughout, not helped any by tepid direction from Daniel’s sometimes-reliable brother Mark and a couple of hopelessly plankish leads who do their best to dampen down any wit that occasionally attempts to surface.

I can only presume there’s a never-ending pile of Young Adult fiction poised for big screen failure, all of it comprising multi-novel storylines just begging for a moment in the Sun. Every time an adaptation crashes and burns (and the odds are that they will) another one rises, hydra-like, hoping…

It's a trip I won't forget, Avon.

Blake's 7 4.11: Orbit

Robert Holmes’ fourth and final script for the series is a belter, one that combines his trademark black comedy with the kind of life-or-death peril that makes some of his more high stakes scripts for Doctor Who (The Deadly Assassin and The Caves of Androzani for example) stand out. 

My name is Dr. King Schultz, this is my valet, Django, and these are our horses, Fritz, and Tony.

Django Unchained (2012)
(MINOR SPOILERS) Since the painful misstep of Grindhouse/Death Proof, Quentin Tarantino has regained the higher ground like never before. Pulp Fiction, his previous commercial and critical peak, has been at very least equalled by the back-to-back hits of Inglourious Basterds and Django Unchained. Having been underwhelmed by his post Pulp Fiction efforts (albeit, I admired his technical advances as a director in Kill Bill), I was pleasantly surprised by Inglourious Basterds. It was no work of genius (so not Pulp Fiction) by any means, but there was a gleeful irreverence in its treatment of history and even to the nominal heroic status of its titular protagonists. Tonally, it was a good fit for the director’s “cool” aesthetic. As a purveyor of postmodern pastiche, where the surface level is the subtext, in some ways he was operating at his zenith. Django Unchained is a retreat from that position, the director caught in the tug between his all-important aesthetic pr…

So you made contact with the French operative?

Atomic Blonde (2017)
(SPOILERS) Well, I can certainly see why Focus Features opted to change the title from The Coldest City (the name of the graphic novel from which this is adapted). The Coldest City evokes a noirish, dour, subdued tone, a movie of slow-burn intrigue in the vein of John Le Carré. Atomic Blonde, to paraphrase its introductory text, is not that movie. As such, there’s something of a mismatch here, of the kind of Cold War tale it has its roots in and the furious, pop-soaked action spectacle director David Leitch is intent on turning it into. In the main, his choices succeed, but the result isn’t quite the clean getaway of his earlier (co-directed) John Wick.

I just hope my death makes more cents than my life.

Joker (2019)
(SPOILERS) So the murder sprees didn’t happen, and a thousand puff pieces desperate to fan the flames of such events and then told-ya-so have fallen flat on their faces. The biggest takeaway from Joker is not that the movie is an event, when once that seemed plausible but not a given, but that any mainstream press perspective on the picture appears unable to divorce its quality from its alleged or actual politics. Joker may be zeitgeisty, but isn’t another Taxi Driver in terms of cultural import, in the sense that Taxi Driver didn’t have a Taxi Driver in mind when Paul Schrader wrote it. It is, if you like, faux-incendiary, and can only ever play out on that level. It might be more accurately described as a grubbier, grimier (but still polished and glossy) The Talented Ripley, the tale of developing psychopathy, only tailored for a cinemagoing audience with few options left outside of comic book fare.

You must find the keys for me!

Doctor Who The Keys of Marinus
Most of the criticisms levelled at The Keys of Marinus over the past 50 years have been fair play, and yet it’s a story I return to as one of the more effortlessly watchable of the Hartnell era. Consequently, the one complaint I can’t really countenance is that it’s boring. While many a foray during this fledgling period drags its heels, even ones of undeniable quality in other areas, Marinus’ shifting soils and weekly adventures-in-miniature sustain interest, however inelegant the actual construction of those narratives may be. The quest premise also makes it a winner; it’s a format I have little resistance to, even when manifested, as here, in an often overtly budget-stricken manner.

Doctor Who has dabbled with the search structure elsewhere, most notably across The Key to Time season, and ultimately Marinus’ mission is even more of a MacGuffin than in that sextology, a means to string together what would otherwise be vignettes to little overall coherence…

It always seems a bit abstract, doesn’t it? Other people dying.

Game of Thrones Season Six
(SPOILERS) The most distracting thing about Season Six of Game of Thrones (and I’ve begun writing this at the end of the seventh episode, The Broken Man) is how breakneck its pace is, and how worryingly – only relatively, mind – upbeat it’s become. Suddenly, characters are meeting and joining forces, not necessarily mired in pits of despair but actually moving towards positive, attainable goals, even if those goals are ultimately doomed (depending on the party concerned). It feels, in a sense, that liberated from George R R Martin’s text, producers are going full-throttle, and you half-wonder if they’re using up too much plot and revelation too quickly, and will run out before the next two seasons are up. Then, I’m naturally wary of these things, well remembering how Babylon 5 suffered from packing all its goods into Season Four and was then given an ultimately wasted final season reprieve.

I’ve started this paragraph at the end of the eighth episode, No One (t…

I take Quaaludes 10-15 times a day for my "back pain", Adderall to stay focused, Xanax to take the edge off, part to mellow me out, cocaine to wake me back up again, and morphine... Well, because it's awesome.

The Wolf of Wall Street (2013)
Along with Pain & Gain and The Great Gatsby, The Wolf of Wall Street might be viewed as the completion of a loose 2013 trilogy on the subject of success and excess; the American Dream gone awry. It’s the superior picture to its fellows, by turns enthralling, absurd, outrageous and hilarious. This is the fieriest, most deliriously vibrant picture from the director since the millennium turned. Nevertheless, stood in the company of Goodfellas, the Martin Scorsese film from which The Wolf of Wall Street consciously takes many of its cues, it is found wanting.

I was vaguely familiar with the title, not because I knew much about Jordan Belfort but because the script had been in development for such a long time (Ridley Scott was attached at one time). So part of the pleasure of the film is discovering how widely the story diverges from the Wall Street template. “The Wolf of Wall Street” suggests one who towers over the city like a behemoth, rather than a guy …