Based on a novella by Jane Austen, Love & Friendship is a sharp and witty period film that provides a great lead role for Kate Beckinsale, being so enjoyable here that it's enough to make you wish she didn't spend so much of her film career as a leather-clad vampire caught in a war between vampires and lycan (and I never thought I would type that sentence).
Beckinsale is Lady Susan Vernon, a widow who is set to arrive at the home of some in-laws. She has a reputation as a renowned flirt, although some say that she is simply someone who creates fine and enjoyable company for those around her. Her main concerns are finding a suitable match for her daughter (Frederica, played by Morfydd Clark) and ensuring her own position in society remains as safe and secure as can be, which is no easy task.
Director Whit Stillman, who also adapted the source material into screenplay form, keeps everything as expected for a period film, with the language and look of the thing as prim and proper as can be, but is able to also make it feel quite fresh and modern thanks to the attitude of the woman at the heart of the main events. Lady Susan is quite the go-getter, and in a manner more overt than most characters we see in this kind of thing.
Beckinsale has a lot of fun in the main role, almost every scene that has her interacting with others has her performing in a way that manipulates them to assist her in whatever her aim is, be it short or long-term. Clark does fine as her daughter, although it's a role that maybe could have been kept offscreen for most of the movie, such is the long shadow of her mother and the seeming lack of personal motivation in the character. As for the main men onscreen, Xavier Samuel is typically handsome and courteous in the role of Reginald DeCourcy, a potential suitor, and Tom Bennett is very amusing as the well-meaning, but quite dim, Sir James Martin. There's also solid work from Chloë Sevigny, as a friend married to a man (Stephen Fry) who disapproves of the friendship, Emma Greenwell, Justin Edwards, and a number of other familiar faces.
Strangely enough, however, when you look beyond the more modern sensibilities that are surprisingly prevalent throughout the film, it's hard not to consider that this is something that still feels far too close to the other, better-known, classic works from this period. Whether it is the mother trying to ensure a good life for her daughter, with sacrifices made and compromises considered, the filtering of rumours and damaging observations through various social circles, or even just the interception of a letter that may cause damage to the parties involved, this is all very familiar fare in some enjoyably vibrant packaging.
It's still worth your time though, and the ending is a particularly amusing "punchline" after all that has been shown beforehand.