Director: Walt Stillman (2016)
Like TV’s Downton Abbey but with wit and considerably better breeding, this adaptation of Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan is an elegant waspish joy.
There’s corsets for the ladies and mutton chops for the chaps. With a full carriage of wealthy suitors, impoverished friends and watchful servants, it’s a sharp eyed trot though the drawing rooms of nineteenth century stately homes.
Kate Beckinsale is ravishing in scarlet as the penniless widow out to secure a good marriage for herself and her daughter. As young Frederica an impressive Morfydd Clark suffers her mother’s machinations with determined grace.
Tom Bennett is marvellously silly as the stupid, wealthy and available Sir James Martin. Chloe Sevigny, Jemma Redgrave and Stephen Fry are swept up with the gossip, intrigue and social commentary as it flits between London the crisp English countryside.
Under the comic assault of Austen’s withering writing, the cast contrive to keep a straight face with far more success than I managed to do.
Though the selfish, arrogant and manipulative Lady Susan is a collection of unattractive traits, we warm to her because she is alarmingly funny, decisive, intelligent and not to be denied her pleasure because society frowns upon her doing so.
It would be intriguing to read Austen’s thoughts on the gender divide in 2016, a year in which it’s possible to argue this year’s best role for a fortysomething actress was written by herself 200 years ago.