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film review

Chloe Sevigny and Kate Beckinsale in Whit Stillman's Love & Friendship.Bernard Walsh

Jane Austen did not probe the human heart in her early novella, Lady Susan. Instead, she coolly satirized the reputational economics of a scheming young widow, emphasis on the "economics." In another Austen novel, this widow would be just the sort of manipulative minx who bedevils our beloved heroine and eventually gets her comeuppance. But inasmuch as there is any heroine in Whit Stillman's adaptation Love & Friendship, Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is it. As she plots an advantageous match for her daughter and charms another eligible catch for herself, Lady Susan's playboy-operator machinations threaten to make her a pariah until she follows its transactional conventions to the letter; in other words, marriage, the world's second-oldest profession. Adapted with great warmth and wit, and with as much of Austen's crackling dialogue as his own, Stillman shapes lean Austen descriptions such as "He is as silly as ever" into superb character bits for the preposterous twit Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), while also finding room for cleverly referenced bits of history, and even layered humour via the wry title cards.