24 June 2016
Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Jane Austen’s Lady Susan (a novella I’ve never read) as Love & Friendship starring Kate Beckinsale was a delight. Understood as a comedy of manners, it brought pleasant laughter throughout. In comparison with the recent unpleasant experience of Me Before You (my comments here), Love & Friendship revealed a principal character (Lady Susan Vernon, exquisitely played by Beckinsale) every bit as self-centered as Will Traynor and even more venal. After all, Traynor merely hurt those who loved him by taking his own life. Lady Susan engaged in a tawdry manipulation of her young daughter and various and sundry friends to achieve a suitable match. Suitable in her case meant a rich dunderhead who suspected nothing amiss when told that he would be a father one day after the wedding.
The difference between the films doesn’t so much lie in their characters but in the moral universes in which those characters operate. Or, perhaps more accurately, in the very presence of a moral universe in Love & Friendship. Instead of the will o’ the wisp of personal autonomy, Austen proves the truism that hypocrisy is the tribute vice plays to virtue. Oh for a return to the days of rampant hypocrisy instead of the contemporary paeans to treacly authenticity!