Love and Friendship is a film based on Lady Susan, an early epistolary novel that it seems Jane Austen completed but never submitted. It’s a lot of fun. Lady Susan is a scheming, hypocritical woman, who manages to ruin marriages and make life difficult for those around her.
As you watch, though, it’s easy to remember that life was hard for a widow without means in Austen’s era. As Lady Susan says to her daughter, for those without means, they’re reliant on the kindness of relatives and friends. So Austen paints Lady Susan as scheming, but it’s easy to imagine someone in that situation who might have had to rely on their wits to survive in a difficult social setting, and without resources.
The film does well telling a reasonably intricate plot, and communicating the different pieces clearly. A shortfall in the narrative is that it’s not always clear what the protagonist is seeking, or who the protagonist even is – Lady Susan dominates the screen, but her only real opposition comes from characters who are at the margins at best. Even when others do succeed in foiling her schemes, it seems they do so only because she acquiesces, rather than through anything they’ve done.
This wasn’t one Austen tried to have published, so it’s hard to know what it might have looked like in final form. Even in rough form, it sparkles. Some of the awkwardness is so brilliant it feels like watching The Office in Elizabethan dress.