A new Jane Austen film? OF COURSE I’LL WATCH IT.
As much as I adore Austen-inspired films, I have a special place in my heart for adaptations of the originals. I haven’t seen any version of ‘Lady Susan,’ so when I heard about this movie awhile back I was kind of thrilled and intrigued. How were they going to make a short ancillary novel into a feature-length film?
Well, my first annoyance came with the release of the title. As most of us know, ‘Love and Friendship’ (originally ‘Freindship’) is the name of a different Austen work. While I totally understand that a movie called ‘Lady Susan’ may not be the most appealing thing in the world to market, I don’t really get why you’d take that juvenilia title as a replacement. I’m still explaining to people (even avid Janeites) that the movie is indeed about Lady Susan, not a compendium of Austen’s shorts.
The movie itself is pretty good for an Austen film. I felt that it’s interpretation was fresh and unique in a genre that usually sticks to costume drama simplicity. I haven’t seen Whit Stillman’s other films, but I appreciate that there are unique directorial flourishes that totally set this film apart.
With the high-drama of a Wes Anderson film, we are introduced to the Manwaring family as the Vernon women flee in distress. At each new home we are treated to an overly dramatic dramatis personae. It doesn’t feel overdone since, let’s face it, Austen is making fun of how society takes itself far too seriously.
Susan, a woman who needs no introduction, is just as charmingly manipulative as we want. You can almost see her mind swiftly changing gears and tallying up the pros and cons of her next move. It’s kind of lovely to watch a former Emma turn into this scandalous widow.
Susan is accompanied by a friend early on, a part not in the story, but I’m sure included so we have a person for Susan to talk to in a place where letters would have done so. It’s rather odd since she just leaves and we never hear of her again.
The plot is changed a bit to allow for Alicia and Susan to have more conversations. As amusing as I think making Alicia American is, I felt like it was maybe one thing too many to have the audience pay attention to. Plus it stuck out like a sore thumb. Plus, and I could be very wrong, but Alicia’s American accent was felt way ahead of its time.
Lady Lucy Manwaring’s red-eyed sobbing from start to finish was actually highly amusing, though I’m sure a woman in the Regency era who was about to be disgraced with a divorce would be acting exactly that way. Her husband, as charming and handsome as his title card alludes to, is really just there to look at.
I was very pleased with the amount of screen time Catherine DeCourcy Vernon got. Susan’s sister-in-law is just trying to keep the family from collapse at the cost of one woman’s need to be the center of all. Her parallel storyline contrasts well with Lady Susan. She hurries around the country attempting to clean up messes and put out fires.
The huge twist at the end is Lady Susan’s pregnancy. Too scandalous for it’s time, I suppose it does help us understand why Susan was willing to marry the fool that is Martin.
I enjoyed the film, thought the tone was unique, but wasn’t as charmed as everyone else seems to be. Yes, Susan is as crazy on screen as she is on the page, which I appreciate, but having read the book I guess it just wasn’t as shocked by the woman as fresh eyes would be.
Who should watch this: Janeites. I’m not sure how well a non-Janeite would appreciate the tone of the film/story.
What you should drink with it: Long Island iced tea.