Gosh, you can only stand the royals for so long. It’s with a heavy heart that I say I wanted Whit Stillman’s Love & Friendship to absolutely nail it.
On paper and parchment, it has the makings of a great screwball, surreal or even a French farcical comedy, set against prestigious London estates searching for husbands with wealth, not necessarily love. Where Love & Friendship loses me is the lack of depth in narrative and comedic sensibility, not going to work when everything around it should just scream impressive.
I think it’s a sin to watch Love & Friendship without subtitles, and if you’re not up to scratch with classic overt Britishisms and its dialect, there’s a large portion of this movie that’s not going to work for you. Stillman is great with setting and making his films authentically pompous, with gorgeous costume design, music and areas that are period royals. In this regard, Stillman can craft a nice cinematic surface. In utilising his characters, however, particularly ones that are distinctly cunning and or foolish, delivering on a narrative basis that’s daring and charming with themes that are worth salivating, Love & Friendship just doesn’t show the same affection.
Lead by a central performance in Kate Beckinsale’s Lady Susan Vernon, sadly for me, she falls on that thin line only few like a Jordan Belfort in The Wolf of Wall Street can walk – downright non-respectable in their actions, however watching them is justified by their charm and entertainment factor. Stillman has a character who seemingly can pit anybody against another, has a sense of her own worth and womanhood sexuality, with a knowledge of how to command personal gain in this pompous world, however she doesn’t really amount to much other than a few noteworthy quips. No intrigue in how she’ll get from A to F, no anticipation that keeps us in a transfixed state, adoring this lead as the impressive yet scummy personality she is. It felt like a movie that didn’t start yet, and very little cause and effect as it went on. Susan less the power rising mastermind and more the double standard conservative mother of the year, with an arc that doesn’t amount to its satisfying narrative promise. With so many pawns it’s a rather dull game of wits to watch unfold.
I should not neglect the cast, who I believe saved this from being an even tougher watch than it already was. Chloë Sevigny was absolutely delightful with the few scenes as the trusted American ally. Morfydd Clark, who almost played Daenerys Targaryen in HBO’s Game of Thrones, gorgeously innocent as the daughter to a rather uncaring mother. Shameless star Emma Greenwell a welcome surprise to see, who’s very different than her TV star role as Mandy Milkovich, proving she can hold the screen when she wants. The standout for me being Tom Bennett, owning his role as the foolish, hopeless bachelor, that I imagine on a powerhouse, tight script would be an icon-making performance. In his most important task, getting the best out of his actors, Stillman knows how to deliver.
I doubt I can ever watch Love & Friendship again. Out of respect for miss Sevigny, who frankly deserves more roles in general, I may flick through and appreciate what the film can occasionally show. But this film, like any royal, what they are is far less impressive than what they appear.
Despite have worked together before and been friends for more than a decade, Kate Beckinsale admittedly still doesn’t know how to pronounce the last name of her co-star Chloë Sevigny.