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

Mondo bizarro. No offence man, but you’re in way over your head.

The X-Files 8.7: Via Negativa I wasn’t as down on the last couple of seasons of The X-Files as most seemed to be. For me, the mythology arc walked off a cliff somewhere around the first movie, with only the occasional glimmer of something worthwhile after that. So the fact that the show was tripping over itself with super soldiers and Mulder’s abduction/his and Scully’s baby (although we all now know it wasn’t, sheesh ), anything to stretch itself beyond breaking point in the vain hope viewers would carry on dangling, didn’t really make much odds. Of course, it finally snapped with the wretched main arc when the show returned, although the writing was truly on the wall with Season 9 finale The Truth . For the most part, though, I found 8 and 9 more watchable than, say 5 or 7. They came up with their fair share of engaging standalones, one of which I remembered to be Via Negativa .

Isn’t it true, it’s easier to be a holy man on the top of a mountain?

The Razor’s Edge (1984) (SPOILERS) I’d hadn’t so much a hankering as an idle interest in finally getting round to seeing Bill Murray’s passion project. Partly because it seemed like such an odd fit. And partly because passion isn’t something you tend to associate with any Murray movie project, involving as it usually does laidback deadpan. Murray, at nigh-on peak fame – only cemented by the movie he agreed to make to make this movie – embarks on a serious-acting-chops dramatic project, an adaptation of W Somerset Maugham’s story of one man’s journey of spiritual self-discovery. It should at least be interesting, shouldn’t it? A real curio? Alas, not. The Razor’s Edge is desperately turgid.

Schnell, you stinkers! Come on, raus!

Private’s Progress (1956) (SPOILERS) Truth be told, there’s good reason sequel I’m Alright Jack reaps the raves – it is, after all, razor sharp and entirely focussed in its satire – but Private’s Progress is no slouch either. In some respects, it makes for an easy bedfellow with such wartime larks as Norman Wisdom’s The Square Peg (one of the slapstick funny man’s better vehicles). But it’s also, typically of the Boulting Brothers’ unsentimental disposition, utterly remorseless in rebuffing any notions of romantic wartime heroism, nobility and fighting the good fight. Everyone in the British Army is entirely cynical, or terrified, or an idiot.

You have done well to keep so much hair, when so many’s after it.

Jeremiah Johnson (1972) (SPOILERS) Hitherto, I was most familiar with Jeremiah Johnson in the form of a popular animated gif of beardy Robert Redford smiling and nodding in slow zoom close up (a moment that is every bit as cheesy in the film as it is in the gif). For whatever reason, I hadn’t mustered the enthusiasm to check out the 1970s’ The Revenant until now (well, beard-wise, at any rate). It’s easy to distinguish the different personalities at work in the movie. The John Milius one – the (mythic) man against the mythic landscape; the likeably accentuated, semi-poetic dialogue – versus the more naturalistic approach favoured by director Sydney Pollack and star Redford. The fusion of the two makes for a very watchable, if undeniably languorous picture. It was evidently an influence on Dances with Wolves in some respects, although that Best Picture Oscar winner is at greater pains to summon a more sensitive portrayal of Native Americans (and thus, perversely, at times a more patr

It’s not as if she were a… maniac, a raving thing.

Psycho (1960) (SPOILERS) One of cinema’s most feted and most studied texts, and for good reason. Even if the worthier and more literate psycho movie of that year is Michael Powell’s Peeping Tom . One effectively ended a prolific director’s career and the other made its maker more in demand than ever, even if he too would discover he had peaked with his populist fear flick. Pretty much all the criticism and praise of Psycho is entirely valid. It remains a marvellously effective low-budget shocker, one peppered with superb performances and masterful staging. It’s also fairly rudimentary in tone, character and psychology. But those negative elements remain irrelevant to its overall power.

My Doggett would have called that crazy.

The X-Files 9.4: 4-D I get the impression no one much liked Agent Monica Reyes (Annabeth Gish), but I felt, for all the sub-Counsellor Troi, empath twiddling that dogged her characterisation, she was a mostly positive addition to the series’ last two years (of its main run). Undoubtedly, pairing her with Doggett, in anticipation of Gillian Anderson exiting just as David Duchovny had – you rewatch these seasons and you wonder where her head was at in hanging on – made for aggressively facile gender-swapped conflict positions on any given assignment. And generally, I’d have been more interested in seeing how two individuals sympathetic to the cause – her and Mulder – might have got on. Nevertheless, in an episode like 4-D you get her character, and Doggett’s, at probably their best mutual showing.

I tell you, it saw me! The hanged man’s asphyx saw me!

The Asphyx (1972) (SPOILERS) There was such a welter of British horror from the mid 60s to mid 70s, even leaving aside the Hammers and Amicuses, that it’s easy to lose track of them in the shuffle. This one, the sole directorial effort of Peter Newbrook (a cameraman for David Lean, then a cinematographer), has a strong premise and a decent cast, but it stumbles somewhat when it comes to taking that premise any place interesting. On the plus side, it largely eschews the grue. On the minus, directing clearly wasn’t Newbrook’s forte, and even aided by industry stalwart cinematographer Freddie Young (also a go-to for Lean), The Aspyhx is stylistically rather flat.

You’re a disgrace, sir... Weren’t you at Harrow?

Our Man in Marrakesh aka Bang! Bang! You’re Dead (1966) (SPOILERS) I hadn’t seen this one in more than three decades, and I had in mind that it was a decent spy spoof, well populated with a selection of stalwart British character actors in supporting roles. Well, I had the last bit right. I wasn’t aware this came from the stable of producer Harry Alan Towers, less still of his pedigree, or lack thereof, as a sort of British Roger Corman (he tried his hand at Star Wars with The Shape of Things to Come and Conan the Barbarian with Gor , for example). More legitimately, if you wish to call it that, he was responsible for the Christopher Lee Fu Manchu flicks. Our Man in Marrakesh – riffing overtly on Graham Greene’s Our Man in Havana in title – seems to have in mind the then popular spy genre and its burgeoning spoofs, but it’s unsure which it is; too lightweight to work as a thriller and too light on laughs to elicit a chuckle.

The best thing in the world for the inside of a man or a woman is the outside of a horse.

Marnie (1964) (SPOILERS) Hitch in a creative ditch. If you’ve read my Vertigo review, you’ll know I admired rather than really liked the picture many fete as his greatest work. Marnie is, in many ways, a redux, in the way De Palma kept repeating himself in the early 80s only significantly less delirious and… well, compelling. While Marnie succeeds in commanding the attention fitfully, it’s usually for the wrong reasons. And Hitch, digging his heels in as he strives to fashion a star against public disinterest – he failed to persuade Grace Kelly out of retirement for Marnie Rutland – comes entirely adrift with his leads.

You know what I sometimes wish? I sometimes wish I were ordinary like you. Ordinary and dead like all the others.

Séance on a Wet Afternoon (1964) (SPOILERS) Bryan Forbes’ adaptation of Mark McShane’s 1961’s novel has been much acclaimed. It boasts a distinctive storyline and effective performances from its leads, accompanied by effective black-and-white cinematography from Gerry Turpin and a suitably atmospheric score from John Barry. I’m not sure Forbes makes the most of the material, however, as he underlines Séance on a Wet Afternoon ’s inherently theatrical qualities at the expense of its filmic potential.