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

What ho, Brinkley. So, do you think we’re going to get along, what?

Jeeves and Wooster 2.4: Jeeves in the Country  (aka Chuffy)
The plundering of Thank You, Jeeves elicits two more of the series’ best episodes, the first of which finds Bertie retiring to the country with a new valet, the insolent, incompetent and inebriate Brinkley (a wonderfully sour, sullen performance from Fred Evans, who would receive an encore in the final season), owing to Jeeves being forced to resign over his master’s refusal to give up the trumpet (“not an instrument for a gentleman”; in the book, it’s a banjulele).

Chuffnall Hall is the setting (filmed at Wrotham Park in Hertfordshire), although the best of the action takes place around Bertie’s digs in Chuffnall Regis (Clovelly, Devon), which old pal Reginald “Chuffy” Chuffnell (Marmaduke Lord Chuffnell) has obligingly rented him, much to the grievance of the villagers, who have to endure his trumpeting disrupting the beatific beach (it’s a lovely spot, one of the most evocative in the series).

Jeeves is snapped up into the e…

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…

Exit bear, pursued by an actor.

Paddington 2 (2017)
(SPOILERS) Paddington 2 is every bit as upbeat and well-meaning as its predecessor. It also has more money thrown at it, a much better villain (an infinitely better villain) and, in terms of plotting, is more developed, offering greater variety and a more satisfying structure. Additionally, crucially, it succeeds in offering continued emotional heft and heart to the Peruvian bear’s further adventures. It isn’t, however, quite as funny.

Even suggesting such a thing sounds curmudgeonly, given the universal applause greeting the movie, but I say that having revisited the original a couple of days prior and found myself enjoying it even more than on first viewing. Writer-director Paul King and co-writer Simon Farnaby introduce a highly impressive array of set-ups with huge potential to milk their absurdity to comic ends, but don’t so much squander as frequently leave them undertapped.

Paddington’s succession of odd jobs don’t quite escalate as uproariously as they migh…

That be what we call scringe stone, sir.

Doctor Who The Ribos Operation (1978)
Season 16 is my favourite season, so I’m inevitably of the view that it gets a bad rap (or a just plain neglected one), is underrated and generally unappreciated. Of its six stories, though, The Ribos Operation is probably the one, on balance, that receives the most accolades (on some days, it’s The Pirate Planet; many moons ago, back when DWAS was actually a thing of some relevance, The Stones of Blood won their season poll; there are also those who, rightly, extol the virtues of The Androids of Tara). I’m fully behind that, although truthfully, I don’t think there’s an awful lot between the first four stories. Why, I even have great affection for the finale. It’s only “KROLL! KROLL! KROLL! KROLL!” that comes up a bit short, which no doubt makes me a no good dryfoot, but there you are. If that Robert Holmes script is on the threadbare side, through little fault of his own, The Ribos Operation is contrastingly one of his very best, a hugely satisfyi…

I do… very competitive ice dancing.

Justice League (2017)
(SPOILERS) Superheroes, and superhero movies, trade in hyperbole, so it shouldn’t be surprising that DC’s two releases this year have been responded to in like, only each at opposite ends of the spectrum. Wonder Woman was insanely over-praised in the rush to fete a female superhero finally leading a movie, crushing all nuanced criticism in its wake. Justice League, meanwhile, has been lambasted on the basis that it’s more of the same as Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice, only worse – to the extent there have been calls for a Zach Snyder Director’s Cut, which is quite an extent, as extents go – as it’s guilty of being an unholy clash of styles, grimdark Zach scowling in one corner and quip-happy Joss pirouetting in the other. And yes, the movie is consequently a mess, but it’s a relatively painless mess, with the sense to get in and get out again before the viewer has enough time to assess the full extent of the damage.

I think World War II was my favourite war.

Small Soldiers (1998)
An off-peak Joe Dante movie is still one chock-a-block full of satirical nuggets and comic inspiration, far beyond the facility of most filmmakers. Small Soldiers finds him back after a six-year big screen absence, taking delirious swipes at the veneration of the military, war movies, the toy industry, conglomerates and privatised defence forces. Dante’s take is so gleefully skewed, he even has big business win! The only problem with the picture (aside from an indistinct lead, surprising from a director with a strong track record for casting juveniles) is that this is all very familiar.

Dante acknowledged Small Soldiers was basically a riff on Gremlins, and it is. Something innocuous and playful turns mad, bad and dangerous. On one level it has something in common with Gremlins 2: The New Batch, in that the asides carry the picture. But Gremlins 2 was all about the asides, happy to wander off in any direction that suited it oblivious to whether the audience was on …

‘Cos I’m the gringo who always delivers.

American Made (2017)
(SPOILERS) This is definitely more the sort of thing Tom Cruise should be doing, a movie that relies both on his boyish™ charm and at least has pretensions of ever so slightly pushing the envelope of standard multiplex fare, rather than desperately attaching himself to an impersonal franchise (The Mummy) or flailingly attempting to kick start one (Jack Reacher: Never Go Back); remember when Cruise wouldn’t even go near sequels (for about 20 years, The Color of Money aside, and then only the one series)? American Made is still victim to the tendency of his movies to feel superstar-fitted rather than remaining as punchy as they might be on paper (Made’s never quite as satirically sharp as it wants to be), but it at least doesn’t lead its audience by the nose.

You diabolical mastermind, you.

The Avengers Season 4 Ranked – Worst to Best
Season Four is generally held up as the pinnacle of The Avengers, and it certainly maintains the greatest level of consistency in the run. Nevertheless, as I noted a few reviews back, one viewer’s classic is another’s ho-hum with this show, perhaps because it doesn’t elicit the same kind of exhaustive fandom to establish any level of consensus as some series. There follows my Worst to Best ranking of the season, told mostly in pictures. The index for full episode reviews can be found here.

Rejoice! The broken are the more evolved. Rejoice.

Split (2016)
(SPOILERS) M Night Shyamalan went from the toast of twist-based filmmaking to a one-trick pony to the object of abject ridicule in the space of only a couple of pictures: quite a feat. Along the way, I’ve managed to miss several of his pictures, including his last, The Visit, regarded as something of a re-locating of his footing in the low budget horror arena. Split continues that genre readjustment, another Blumhouse production, one that also manages to bridge the gap with the fare that made him famous. But it’s a thematically uneasy film, marrying shlock and serious subject matter in ways that don’t always quite gel.

Shyamalan has seized on a horror staple – nubile teenage girls in peril, prey to a psychotic antagonist – and, no doubt with the best intentions, attempted to warp it. But, in so doing, he has dragged in themes and threads from other, more meritable fare, with the consequence that, in the end, the conflicting positions rather subvert his attempts at subversion…

You’re never the same man twice.

The Man Who Haunted Himself (1970)
(SPOILERS) Roger Moore playing dual roles? It sounds like an unintentionally amusing prospect for audiences accustomed to the actor’s “Raise an eyebrow” method of acting. Consequently, this post-Saint pre-Bond role (in which he does offer some notable eyebrow acting) is more of a curiosity for the quality of Sir Rog’s performance than the out-there premise that can’t quite sustain the picture’s running time. It is telling that the same story was adapted for an episode of Alfred Hitchcock Presents 15 years earlier, since the uncanny idea at its core feels like a much better fit for a trim 50 minute anthology series.

Basil Dearden directs, and co-adapted the screenplay from Anthony Armstrong’s novel The Strange Case of Mr Pelham. Dearden started out with Ealing, helming several Will Hay pictures and a segment of Dead of Night (one might imagine a shortened version of this tale ending up there, or in any of the portmanteau horrors that arrived in the year…