ROMANTIC COMEDY; 1hr 34min
STARRING: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Chloë Sevigny
Austen powers: Sevigny (left) and Beckinsale
“I have no money and no husband,” ravishing widow Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) remarks while off to acquire both at the country estate of her in-laws (Emma Greenwell and Justin Edwards). What she does have is a dodgy, fully deserved rep, a like-minded crony in Alicia Johnson (Sevigny) and a despised daughter (Morfydd Clark as Frederica ) she’s desperate to marry off—understandably, really, since this is the 1790s and a woman sans a man is a social no-no.
Jane Austen, from whose 1871 novel Lady Susan writer-director Whit Stillman’s scintillating lark is derived, was a mistress of manicured surfaces and hidden depths. The estate seems a haven of mannered tranquillity but behind closed doors the frothy plot thickens as Lady Susan spins her webs, charming the reason out of Catherine’s younger brother (Samuel) while egging on Frederica's unwanted, idiotic suitor (Tom Bennett). The lady is an atypical snake in the grass for Austen, but the author’s discerning eye and tartly knowing voice has always been a gift to quick-witted women, and Beckinsale makes the utmost of Susan’s silky villainy. It’s a treat to see her slink and weave.