Jane Austen’s best-loved works, such as Pride and Prejudice and Sense and Sensibility , may be better known for romantic melodrama, but new movie Love & Friendship proves that she was wickedly funny, too.
Based on her short novella Lady Susan , the film stars British actor Kate Beckinsale as wealthy young widow Lady Susan Vernon, whose hunger for wealth is matched only by her wicked tongue. “What a mistake you made marrying him,” Lady Susan tells her best friend Alicia Johnson—played by Chloe Sevigny—before delivering the zinger: “Too old to be governable, but too young to die.” Between the raucous barbs, Susan tries to consolidate her future by marrying a wealthy younger man, while also trying to matchmake her daughter Frederica with an older gentleman.
Speaking to Newsweek , Beckinsale said she was surprised to learn the film, which reunites her with her Last Days of Disco director Whit Stillman and co-star Sevigny, was based on an Austen story. “When I first got the script I didn’t think it was based on Jane Austen because it was so racy and broadly funny,” she said.
Love & Friendship marks the first time, to some surprise, that Lady Susan has been adapted for the screen. Stillman says Austen isn’t given enough credit for her ability to write humor, something he believes stems from previous film adaptations of her works veering towards romance and drama to draw in female audiences.
He said: “I think people reading Jane Austen appreciate her humor and love her for that. Somehow when it gets into the realm of adaptations for film and television, people consider it a ‘women’s project’ and you see that in the marketing.”
For fans of Beckinsale, Love & Friendship may be something of a departure from the films they are used to seeing her in—like the popcorn fantasy Underworld franchise. With her deliciously dark delivery of Lady Susan’s zingers, Beckinsale’s latest role is a welcome reminder of just how talented she is.
Beckinsale admits “no-one is more surprised” about her career trajectory than she is.
“I started out in stuff that was a little more like [ Love & Friendship ]. I was more surprised than anybody by going into a movie like Underworld . I thought because I’d done so much of the other kind [of films] that that would hold, and actually, Underworld became more associated with what I do.
“Then people are surprised that I’m doing this, it’s funny,” she added.
Stillman—who first cast Beckinsale in 1998’s Last Days of Disco —feels the actor’s Hollywood success has led to her being underrated. “It’s been terrific for her Hollywood career, it’s great getting those big films…but we’ve forgotten what she was so good at, where she started.”
As well as a new movie vehicle, Beckinsale is also new to the world of social media. She joined Instagram earlier in May and has already posted a treasure trove of meme -worthy pictures: this being a case in point. But the 42-year-old star admits she had reservations initially.
“I was quite terrified of it. But I do like the fact you can have your own personality,” she said.
“It’s such a huge deal for me to be on it at all. I don’t want to read: ‘Oh, why don’t you go and die.’ That might upset me.”
Love & Friendship is released in the U.K. on Friday.