At its heart, “Love & Friendship,” Whit Stilman’s adaptation of a previously unpublished Jane Austen novel, is a con-man (or, in this case, con-woman) flick. It should appeal to fans of movies like “Matchstick Men” or “The Brothers Bloom” as much as those of “Pride and Prejudice” and “Sense and Sensibility.” It’s smart, and funny, and the costumes and sets are lovely. It might be the perfect date movie.
It probably ought to be subtitled “…are useful tools to get what you want, or at least avoid poverty.” Kate Beckinsale (who is fantastic, proving that her verbal dexterity is at least a match for the physical dexterity she’s put on display in all those terrible vampire movies) plays our main character, Lady Susan, and like most of Austen’s heroines, she is dangerously close to destitution and ill repute. Her husband has passed away and left her with nothing but debts, and the number of gracious relatives willing to take her in had dwindled because of her, shall we say, flirtatious behavior. Whenever I read Austen, I can’t help but think about how quickly and easily an Austen heroine could become a Dickens or Hugo tragic figure. It’s hardly ever mentioned, but Austen’s women are always perched on the very edge of the abyss.