“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

 

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” (2016) Review

I never thought any film or television production would find another story written by Jane Austen to adapt. Not really. The author only had six novels published. And I was never really aware of any other novels, novellas or short stories . . . until I learned about “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, Whit Stillman’s adaptation of Austen’s 1794 epistolary novel, “Lady Susan”

Set during the 1790s, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” began with the aristocratic and lovely young widow, Lady Susan Vernon, being forced to leave the Manwaring estate due to her dalliance with the married Lord Manwaring and the hysterical reaction to the affair by the latter’s very wealthy wife. Lady Susan had been staying with the Manwarings in order to arrange a possible marriage to her adolescent daughter Frederica and the wealthy, yet brainless Sir James Martin. But after being forced to leave by Lady Manwaring, Lady Susan and her widowed companion, Mrs. Cross, head to Churchill, the country home of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon and his wife, Catherine Vernon. While at Churchill, Lady Susan becomes acquainted with her sister-in-law’s handsome younger brother, Reginald DeCourcy. Reginald becomes deeply attracted to Lady Susan, who views him as a potential husband or lover. She also continues her plans to ensure that Fredrica becomes Sir James’ wife.

“LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” offered at least two reunions for actress Kate Beckinsale. The movie marked her second foray into the world of Jane Austen. Some twenty years earlier, she had portrayed the lead in the 1996-97 adaptation of Jane Austen’s 1815 novel, “Emma”. Beckinsale also found herself reunited with director/writer Whit Stillman and her her co-star Chloë Sevigny. She had worked with both on the 1998 comedy-drama, “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”. In the end, I must admit that I enjoyed “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. I would not regard it as one of my favorite Austen adaptations or one of its best. But I must admit that due to its unique protagonist and Whit Stillman’s witty direction, I really enjoyed this film.

However, there is one aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found confusing. And there is another that I found somewhat disappointing. For the likes of me, I do not understand why Stillman did not use the novel’s original title for the movie. Instead, he borrowed the title, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP”, from another one of Austen’s early works that had been written in 1790. Why Stillman had decided to use this title instead of the one from the 1794 novel upon which this movie was based . . . I have no idea. Frankly, I found it not only unnecessary, but also confusing.

I was also confused by Lady Susan’s movements in the film’s third act. She seemed to travel back and forth between London and Churchill without any real reason. And if there were reasons for her constant traveling, they seemed to be presented with a blink of an eye, due to Stillman’s unusual direction style. There were times when I found Stillman’s pacing just a bit too fast. This led to my last problem with “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” – namely its running time. I realize that the movie’s literary source is a short novel written in epistolary form (usually, a series of letters or other documents). But a part of me felt slightly disappointed that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” could have possessed a longer running time. For me, 93 minutes is not long enough – especially for a lush Jane Austen cinematic adaptation.

But as I had earlier pointed out, I still managed to enjoy “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” very much. Unlike the other Austen stories familiar to me, this tale struck me as rather unusual. Most Austen movie or television adaptations were set between 1800 and 1820 – with the exception of 1995’s “PRIDE AND PREJUDICE”, which seemed to be set on the cusp of the 18th and 19th centuries. Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs seemed to make it clear that “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” is definitely set during the first half of the 1790s.

But the most original aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was the story’s protagonist – Lady Susan Vernon. Villainous protagonists are not exactly new in various movie and television protagonists throughout the years. But they barely exist in a Jane Austen story. The closest she has come to creating a villainous protagonist in the six novels familiar to millions was Emma Woodhouse in her 1815 novel, “Emma”. But Emma proved to be more of a misguided protagonist forced to learn a lesson in the end. Lady Susan Vernon, on the other hand, is not a nice woman. She seemed to harbor a good deal of contempt toward others – including her own daughter, Frederica. Which means she is not a good parent. She is self-involved, a liar, a manipulator, a gold digger and quite possibly a borderline sociopath. Some have compared her to Mary Crawford from “Mansfield Park”. However, I suspect Mary might be more of an anti-heroine than a villainess. Unlike Lady Susan, she is capable of warmth and compassion. I cannot say the same for this movie’s leading lady. And yet . . . unlike Emma Woodhouse or Mary Crawford, Lady Susan did not learn a valuable lesson about her character or faced punishment for her sins.

And like many other Austen productions, “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” was filled with a great deal of wit. I suspect a good deal of it came from Stillman’s own pen. Among my favorite lines – many of them from Lady Susan herself:

*”Americans really have shown themselves to be a nation of ingrates, only by having children can we begin to understand such dynamic.”

*”That’s the parent’s lot! We bring these delightful creatures into the world—eagerly, happily—and then before long they are spying upon and judging us, rarely favourably. Having children is our fondest wish but, in doing so, we breed our acutest critics. It is a preposterous situation—but entirely of our own making.”

*”My dear Alicia, of what a mistake were you guilty in marrying a man of his age! just old enough to be formal, ungovernable, and to have the gout; too old to be agreeable, too young to die.”

*”He has offered you the one thing he has of value to give . . . his income.”

Speaking of Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs, I noticed that they had failed to earn any Academy Award or Golden Globe nominations. Mhaoldomhnaigh did earn nominations from the Satellite Awards and the San Diego Film Critics Society. But they are not exactly regarded in the same sphere as the Oscars or Golden Globes. I did come across one blog – Frock Flicks – in which the writer felt that Mhaoldomhnaigh had failed to created historically accurate costumes. Well . . . historically accurate or not, I found them rather colorful and beautiful, as shown in the image below:

Another aspect of “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” that I found colorful was Anna Rackard’s production designs. I thought she did a wonderful job in re-creating the world of the Georgian Era of the 1790s in both London and in several landed estates. Both Mhaoldomhnaigh’s costume designs and Rackard’s production designs benefited from Richard Van Oosterhout’s colorful cinematography.

As for the cast . . . I find it mind boggling that none of the major cast members managed to acquire a major acting nomination. Especially three of the main leads. First of all, the movie featured some first-rate acting from the supporting cast, which included Stephen Fry, Jemma Redgrave, James Fleet, Xavier Samuel, Emma Greenwell and Morfydd Clark. But there were three performances that I found truly outstanding.

Tom Bennett gave a hilarious performance as the dimwitted baronet, Sir James Martin. His character reminded of the numerous Austen characters who would ramble on, spouting some of the most inane comments. But thanks to Bennett’s skillful performance, Sir James proved to be the most inane and hilarious character ever created by Austen. Chloë Sevigny, who had co-starred with Beckinsale in “THE LAST DAYS OF DISCO”, gave a very charming and subtle performance as Lady Susan’s American-born confident, Mrs. Alicia Johnson. Thanks to Sevigny’s performance, her Alicia proved to be just as unscrupulous as Lady Susan, but a bit more subtle and much wiser – as the final act would eventually prove. But the star of the movie proved to be Kate Beckinsale, who an outstanding performance as the witty, yet calculating Lady Susan Vernon. Beckinsale’s Lady Susan was not only deliciously bitchy, but also stylish and skillful in the way she pursued her goal that I could not help but cheer her own . . . despite the manner in which she treated others, especially her daughter. To this day, I still cannot understand how Bennett, Sevigny and especially Beckinsale failed to garner major nominations for their performances.

As I had earlier pointed out, I do not regard “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” as one of the best Austen productions I have ever seen. I had a few problems with the movie’s pacing and some of the narrative in the third act. The humor featured in “LOVE & FRIENDSHIP” did not leave me laughing on the floor with laughter. But Whit Stillman’s delicious screenplay and direction had me smiling continuously throughout the film and sitting on the edge of my seat, anticipating Lady Susan’s final fate. However, it was the excellent performances of the cast, led by the superb Kate Beckinsale, that truly sold me on the movie in the end.

Favorite Films Set in the 1900s

Meet-Me-in-St-Louis-Trolley

Below is a list of my favorite movies (so far) that are set in the 1900s decade:

 

FAVORITE FILMS SET IN THE 1900s

1 - Howards End

1. “Howard’s End” (1992) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this exquisite adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1910 novel. The movie starred Oscar winner Emma Thompson, Anthony Hopkins, Helena Bonham-Carter, Samuel West and Oscar nominee Vanessa Redgrave.

 

2 - The Assassination Bureau

2. “The Assassination Bureau” (1969) – Oliver Reed, Diana Rigg and Telly Savalas starred in this delicious adaptation of Jack London’s unfinished novel about a woman journalist who uncovers an organization for professional assassins. Basil Dearden directed.

 

3 - A Room With a View

3. “A Room With a View” (1985-86) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this excellent adaptation of E.M. Forster’s 1908 novel. The movie starred Helena Bonham-Carter, Julian Sands, Daniel Day-Lewis and Oscar nominees Maggie Smith and Denholm Elliot.

 

4 - Gigi

4. “Gigi” (1958) – Oscar winner Vincente Minelli directed this superb adaptation of Collette’s 1944 novella about a young Parisian girl being groomed to become a courtesan. Leslie Caron and Louis Jordan starred.

 

5 - The Illusionist

5. “The Illusionist” (2006) – Neil Burger directed this first-rate adaptation of Steven Millhauser’s short story, “Eisenheim the Illusionist”. The movie starred Edward Norton, Jessica Biel, Paul Giamatti and Rufus Sewell.

 

6 - The Great Race

6. “The Great Race” (1965) – Blake Edwards directed this hilarious comedy about a long-distance road race between two rival daredevils. The movie starred Jack Lemmon, Tony Curtis and Natalie Wood.

 

7 - Flame Over India aka North West Frontier

7. “Flame Over India aka North West Frontier” (1959) – Kenneth More and Lauren Bacall starred in this Imperial adventure about a British Army officer who serves as escort to a young Hindu prince being targeted by Muslim rebels. J. Lee Thompson directed.

 

8 - Meet Me in St. Louis

8. “Meet Me in St. Louis” (1944) – Judy Garland starred in this very entertaining adaptation of Sally Benson’s short stories about a St. Louis family around the time of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition World’s Fair in 1904. Vincente Minelli directed.

 

9 - The Golden Bowl

9. “The Golden Bowl” (2000) – Ismail Merchant and James Ivory created this interesting adaptation of Henry James’ 1904 novel about an adulterous affair in Edwardian England. The movie starred Uma Thurman, Nick Nolte, Kate Beckinsale and Jeremy Northam.

 

10 - North to Alaska

10. “North to Alaska” (1960) – John Wayne, Stewart Granger and Capucine starred in this surprisingly fun Western about how a mail-to-order bride nearly came between two partners during the Nome Gold Rush. Henry Hathaway directed.

“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

“MANSFIELD PARK” (2007) Review

There have been three screen adaptations of Jane Austen‘s 1814 novel, “Mansfield Park”. And I have just finished viewing the most recent one – a ninety (90) minute television movie that first aired on the ITV network in March 2007. 

As many Austen fans know, “MANSFIELD PARK” told the story of an English girl sent at the age of 10 to live with her maternal aunt and the latter’s wealthy family at a vast estate called Mansfield Park. Fanny Price is treated as a poor relation of the Bertram family, as a semi-servant for her aunt, Lady Bertram. Only second son, Edmund, treats her with any real kindness. As a result, Fanny finds herself romantically in love with her cousin after eight years at Mansfield Park. Her feelings come to naught when the Bertram family becomes acquainted with a pair of sophisticated siblings named Henry and Mary Crawford. While Henry amuses himself with Fanny’s cousins, Maria and Julia Bertram; Edmund falls in love with Mary, who returns his affections. Jealous over Edmund’s romance with Mary, Fanny is oblivious of Henry’s sudden interest to her. And when he makes it obvious with a proposal of marriage, Fanny finds herself divided between her true feelings about both Edmund and Henry, and her uncle Sir Thomas’ desire to see her married to an eligible man of wealth.

“MANSFIELD PARK” was one of three Jane Austen adaptations aired by the ITV during the spring of 2007. All three movies possessed a running time of at least 90 minutes. Yet, for some reason, the production for “MANSFIELD PARK”seemed like a cheap television production, in compare to “PERSUASION” and “NORTHANGER ABBEY”. It had nothing to do with the changes to Austen story, made by screenwriter Maggie Wadey. However, I do suspect that some of the changes were a result of the movie’s budget. In fact, I am beginning to suspect that the budget had a lot to do with my dissatisfaction with “MANSFIELD PARK”.

Of the three movies aired for ITV’s “The Jane Austen Season”“MANSFIELD PARK” was the only one that was limited to one setting. Although Austen’s novel was mainly set on the Bertram estate, it also included the Rushworth family’s estate, Sotherton, the Mansfield Park parsonage occupied by Dr. and Mrs. Grant, and heroine Fanny Price’s hometown of Portsmouth. Thanks to Wadey’s script, the production did not include the setting of the Mansfield Park parsonage and Portsmouth. Henry and Mary Crawford were never seen at the parsonage. And to prevent shifting the setting to Portsmouth, Wadey’s script allowed Sir Thomas Bertram to isolate Fanny at the estate . . . alone, instead of shipping her back to her immediate family in Portsmouth. This robbed the television viewers of a chance to meet Fanny’s immediate family, aside from brother William. Another change was made by Wadey that seemed to reflect the movie’s limited budget. Instead of a ball, a picnic was held in Fanny’s honor by the Bertrams, following Maria Bertram’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth. A picnic, instead of a ball. How cheap could one get?

Another aspect of “MANSFIELD PARK” that rubbed me the wrong way turned out to be the fast pacing. The television production moved at such a fast pace that I could barely blink before the scene featuring the Rushworths’ wedding appeared. In fact, the entire story from Fanny’s arrival at Mansfield Park to Maria’s marriage to Mr. Rushworth seemed to move at an extremely fast and somewhat unsatisfying pace. If there is one thing about Wadey’s script that did not move me one way or the other was its approach to the topic of slavery. She turned out to be the only screenwriter who adhered to Austen’s novel. The 1999 movie allowed the topic of the Bertram family’s participation in slavery to become a major theme in the movie. The 1983 miniseries completely ignored the subject. However, this version followed Austen’s novel by allowing Fanny to question Sir Thomas about his role as a slave owner, before dropping the subject altogether.

Remember the outrage over Fanny Price’s characterization in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation of the novel? Well, there were some changes made by Wadey in this movie. Maggie O’Neill’s portrayal of Fanny’s Aunt Norris seemed less comic and broad than any other version I have encountered. Normally, I would applaud such a change. But one of the more entertaining aspects of “MANSFIELD PARK” has always been the use of Aunt Norris as a comic figure. O’Neill’s Aunt Norris struck me as slightly boring. Also, Wadey’s characterization of Mary Crawford struck me as slightly cold . . . darker. Portrayed by the talented Hayley Atwell, this version of Mary seemed to lack a sense of humor or true wit. Atwell’s Mary never really tried to form a friendship with Fanny or display any kindness toward the latter. I got the feeling that Wadey deliberately portrayed Mary in this cold fashion to discourage sympathy or any other kind of positive feelings toward her. Because of this, Atwell was almost forced to portray Mary as a one-note villainess. Almost. Thankfully, the actress manage to somewhat rise the character above such mediocrity. Michelle Ryan made a lovely Maria Bertram. Unfortunately, her character failed to make an impact on the television screen, thanks to Wadey’s limited handling of her character.

But not all of Wadey’s characterizations irritated me. I liked her handling of the Lady Bertram character, portrayed by Jemma Redgrave. Instead of the vague and selfish woman portrayed by both Angela Pleasence and Lindsay Duncan, Redgrave portrayed Lady Bertram as a concerned parent and a woman with a deep interest in her children’s love lives, if not their moral compasses. Douglas Hodge made a first-rate Sir Thomas Bertram, in all of his intimidating glory. He had taken the role as an to his mentor, actor/director Harold Pinter, who portrayed the role in Patricia Rozema’s 1999 adaptation. James D’Arcy made an entertaining Tom Bertram. His sharp bon mots kept me smiling through most of the movie’s first half. Rory Kinnear’s portrayal of Mr. Rushworth seemed spot on. It seemed a pity that Wadey’s script did not allow him the chance for a deeper characterization.

Both Blake Ritson and Joseph Beattie portrayed the two men in Fanny’s life – her cousin Edmund Bertram and other suitor Mary Crawford. Ritson failed to make me like Edmund as a character. But this was no reflection on his skills as an actor. I simply dislike Edmund. But Ritson is the third actor to give an excellent performance in the role. He perfectly conveyed all of Edmund’s traits that I heartily despise. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I was a little reluctant to praise Beattie’s performance. I now realize that my judgement of his portrayal had been rushed. At first, he seemed like a womanizing stalker. But once his character began to fall in love in Fanny, Beattie conveyed a great deal of warmth and subtlety into the role.

Even Billie Piper’s performance as Fanny Price seemed a lot different than Sylvestra Le Touzel and Frances O’Connor’s extreme takes on the character. Due to Wadey’s script and Piper’s portrayal was not Le Touzel’s wooden Fanny or O’Connor’s Jane Austen 2.0 characterization. Piper’s Fanny was quiet, but without the passive aggression that I found so exasperating in Austen’s novel. When I first saw “MANSFIELD PARK”, I believed that Piper’s Fanny also lacked the hypocrisy of the previous version. I realize that I had blinded myself from what was obvious on the screen. Although Fanny did not indulge in heavily criticizing Mary Crawford behind the latter’s back, or hid her dislike and jealousy behind a facade of moral outrage; she did express hypocrisy. Like her predecessors, Piper’s Fanny failed to be honest with Henry Crawford about the real reason behind her rejection of his marriage proposal.

Visually, “MANSFIELD PARK” is beautiful to behold. Nick Dance’s photography was sharp and filled with beautifully lush colors. It is a pity that the movie’s budget limited it to one setting. Tim Hutchinson’s production designs contributed to Dance’s lush photography of Newby Hall in Yorkshire, which served as the Bertram estate. And Mike O’Neill’s costume designs were absolutely beautiful – especially those costumes for the Bertram women and Mary Crawford.

What is my final verdict of “MANSFIELD PARK”? Honestly? Of the three movies for ITV’s “Jane Austen’s Season”, it seemed the least impressive. It could boast some first-rate performances, along with great costumes and photography. Unfortunately, the movie’s fast pacing in the first half and its limited budget did not serve it well. In the end, I believe“MANSFIELD PARK” could have benefited from a longer running time and bigger budget.