Jane Austen’s world, as we know from a surfeit of book sales, fan clubs and literary societies and, mainly, countless films based on her stories, are filled with wide-eyes innocents who would be dragged into a loveless marriage in order to restore family fortunes, scheming widows weaving complicated plans, poor relatives scorned until triumphant, young men who bestow their affections on unsuitable prospects, staunch country gentlemen unaware of the crafty goings-on around them. Though one can safely rely on a happy conclusion, the road there can be tortuous.
Whit Stillman’s latest, “Love and Friendship,” comes as an excellent addition to the already vast trove of Austen-related films, which shouldn’t come as a surprise to fans of “Barcelona” or “Last Days of Disco.” The American director moves easily into the world of wealth, and privilege of 19th century England, where important concerns are about whether to spend the season in London or host scores of welcome and unwelcome guests in stately country mansions. Underneath the beautiful façade lurk, of course, the myriad schemes meant to uphold traditions–mainly for widows or mothers of young girls to grab the nearest unattached and wealthy baronet in order to prop up floundering family fortunes. “Love and Friendship” perfectly captures that world, with expert help from Kate Becksinsale as the scheming Lady Lucy, Chloe Sevigny as her American friend and amused observer, and a number of others who bring high humor and innumerable surprises, setbacks, and plots and counterplots to a story that grandly sails to its satisfying conclusion. Not to be missed.