Love & Friendship is a 2016 comedy film written and directed by Whit Stillman. It is based on Jane Austen’s epistolary novel Lady Susan first published in 1871. The film stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloë Sevigny, Xavier Samuel and Stephen Fry. Although it was adapted from Austen’s novel Lady Susan, the film was produced under the borrowed title of her juvenile story Love and Freindship [sic]. The film premiered at the Sundance Film Festival in January 2016. It was released on May 13, 2016, by Roadside Attractions and Amazon Studios. Love & Friendship received critical acclaim and has been a box office success in North America.
In the 1790s, the recently widowed and relatively young Lady Susan Vernon seeks to find a suitably wealthy match for her sole daughter Frederica, and a similarly wealthy husband for herself in order to renew the state of her fortunes. As the film begins, she and her lady in waiting depart the estate of an acquaintance for the country home (“Churchill”) of her brother-in-law, Charles Vernon, and his wife, Catherine Vernon (née DeCourcy).
Lady Susan overhears Catherine and her brother, Reginald DeCourcy, speaking of Lady Susan’s long standing reputation of being a determined and accomplished flirt. She resolves to use her powers of persuasion to convince Catherine and Reginald that she is a person worthy of esteem. For Catherine this means cozying up to Catherine’s children, which does not go well. For Reginald, this means long walks and ostensibly heart-felt conversation, which goes quite well.
Lady Susan’s daughter, Frederica, is at a boarding school which Lady Susan cannot afford, but runs away and is then dismissed. Frederica arrives at Churchill and, shortly thereafter, is followed by Sir James Martin, who is wealthy, well-meaning, and foolish. For example, when at a dinner set early in the film, Sir James seeks amusement in playing with the food on his plate at a semi-formal family dinner party where he announces to everyone his bold inquiry of, “What do you call these little green balls on my plate?” When he is told that they are “peas” he instantly expresses a child-like joy at having suddenly increased his vocabulary by gaining this single new word. He does this to the astonishment of all others seated at the table.
Sir James had previously proposed to Frederica, a match Lady Susan encourages on account of Sir James’ wealth. However, Frederica resists. She considers Sir James a good person but not husband material.
Lady Susan now has the romantic attention of Reginald and of the charming and handsome, though married, Lord Manwaring (pronounced “Mannering”). She feels that Frederica is being difficult, though while Lady Susan is away in London visiting friends and continuing her flirtations with the married Lord Manwaring, her daughter begins to win the hearts of the rest of the family.