Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBB.5. Ireland/Netherlands/France/USA, 2016. Westerly Films, Blinder Films, Centre National de la Cinématographie et de l’Image Animée, Chic Films, Protagonist Pictures, Revolver Amsterdam. Screenplay by Whit Stillman, based on the novella Lady Susan by Jane Austen. Cinematography by Richard van Oosterhout. Produced by Lauranne Bourrachot, Katie Holly, Whit Stillman. Music by Benjamin Esdraffo. Production Design by Louise Matthews, Bryan Tormey. Costume Design by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh. Film Editing by Sophie Corra. Gotham Awards 2016.
Scandalous Kate Beckinsale, an impoverished widow who steals hearts easily with her still youthful beauty, departs from an estate she has been visiting after possibly turning a handsome married man away from his wife. She goes to the home of her late husband’s brother, from which she intends to orchestrate the marriage between her daughter and an eligible suitor, which then becomes complicated by the admiration of her hostess’s brother (Xavier Samuel), who disappoints his family by associating with a woman they dislike immensely. Through it all is Beckinsale’s dear friend from America (Chloe Sevigny), who assists in the many machinations of the delightful plot adapted freely by Whit Stillman from Jane Austen’s Lady Susan, an early novella that was not made public until after her death. Stillman fleshes out the details of the period beautifully and intelligently fills out the plot with scenes and dialogue that are not from Austen but never feel inappropriate for one of the wittiest and most satisfying writers who ever published in England. What the author’s early works lack is the respect for sentimentality that her later novels would have; amid all her sharp (often to the point of catty) narration, there is always at least one moment when a character in a later Jane Austen novel expresses genuine kindness or sympathy and is not shamed by the narrator for it. This story exists from a time before Austen had reached this maturity, and as a result it makes for a film that is all sharp points and cold pleasures, the whole thing perpetually revolving around the axis of Beckinsale (who hasn’t been this delightful since Cold Comfort Farm) expertly outwitting the fools around her in an effort to bend a man’s world to a woman’s will. It is not a film that makes a deeply lasting impression, but it is so polished and laugh out loud funny that it simply must be seen.