Last night, for the first time in a long time, I saw a Jane Austen movie without knowing the original novel. What I knew going in was that Love and Friendship is an adaptation of Lady Susan, which is a different story than another novella called Love and Freindship. Jane wrote both stories when she was a teenager, before she wrote her famous novels. I read and loved Love and Freindship, and I was annoyed when I heard that the Love and Friendship movie was not an adaptation of Love and Freindship, but a story that I had never read.
Lady Susan is told through letters, and I read the first 3 of 41 this morning. Because I have to work before I can finish the novel, what I say next is based more on the adaptation than the four pages I’ve read.
While I’ve told friends for years that Jane Austen is a comedic writer, I did not expect to see a movie that focused more on her humor than her romantic words. Most directors focus on flirting, dancing, and broody Mr. Darcy. It’s not obvious in most adaptations that Jane mocks and parodies her society.
Then we get this movie with Kate Beckinsale as a widow who never. stops. talking. Lady Susan’s husband has died, and she has a teenage daughter with questionable education. They’re penniless, so they’re left bouncing around the homes of friends and family members until one of them can marry rich.
Did I mention that Lady Susan flirts with married men?
Before the story starts, Susan tries to talk her brother-in-law out of marrying his current wife, and then refuses to ever visit. Now that she’s widowed and kicked out of another couple’s home, she suddenly decides that it’s time to see her nieces and nephews and moves in.
If Lady Susan sounds harmless, maybe I should mention that her best friend’s husband has sworn that he will ship his wife back to America if the two of them don’t end their friendship. That’s because Susan is a homewrecker.
There are other men in the story, of course. Susan’s sister-in-law’s brother is young, rich, and susceptible to Susan’s charms. There’s a rich guy who tries to court Susan’s daughter, but he’s an idiot. There’s a married man who keeps trying to visit Susan in private.
Unlike the novels that Jane wrote later in her life, the protagonist is the one made ridiculous. She represents that relative who stays for a week, which turns into three months. She’s stingy and brilliant, and she gets away with the most ridiculous things (like not paying her kid’s tuition because it’s too expensive and that obviously means you’re not supposed to pay it). She’s beautiful and charismatic and toxic, and you can’t criticize her because everyone else in your family is in love with her.
Somehow, what sounds like an awful story ends up being funny on screen. Maybe it’s because Lady Susan is so over the top. Maybe it’s because no one seems to realize what’s happening. Maybe it’s because everyone else is so ridiculous. All I know is that I laughed the entire film, and that I’m probably going to see it three more times in the theatre.