Lady Susan Vernon ( Kate Beckinsale) is widowed and barely grieving… unless it is for her bad reputation and lack of money. She is visiting her brother and sister-in-law Catherine DeCourcy (Emma Greenwell) at their country manor, Churchill, while she tries to find a husband for her daughter, Frederica (Morfyyd Clark) and herself. The gentlemen she has picked, Reginald DeCourcy (Aussie Xavier Samuel) and Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) are too young and too stupid.

This is based on Jane Austen‘s novella, Lady Susan, which was written as a series of letters and has been transformed into this crackling story.

I’m not a fan of Jane Austen, and this film has a lot of the typical Austen traits: people walking around, or drinking tea, ridiculously overdressed and either talking nonsense or gossiping about nonsense. How these people ruled Britannia for so long is a historical blight.

Yet, this film delighted me. Low expectations can produce surprising results and this is not typical Austen. The fact it was a novella shoved in the back of another novel shows how underestimated her comic talents were.

However, I am a fan of Kate Beckinsale and she absolutely crackles and spits fire in this. Her interludes with Chloe Sevigny as the American Alicia Johnson are both expositional and witty. She has reams of dialogue and dominates every scene. Xavier Samuel is also excellent as her star-struck admirer and you’ll love Tom Bennett. Here’s a ‘rattler’ (ie blubbering idiot) you’d probably invite to your next party. There are plenty of other class actors, like Stephen Fry and Justin Edwards, to ensure every role is a gem.

Writer-Director Whit Stillman nails this light farce. Characters are introduced with witty surtitles, scenes are kept very short for a period piece and you’ve got to applaud his casting and direction. There is a Wildesque touch to the delivery and he’s avoided any lashings of ham. He could have gone further, but didn’t need to. Beckinsale’s sharp delivery is cutting enough.

My only issues were missing lines through the laughter and the title. This is purely Lady Susan’s film.

Con’s Score: 4 high teas.

Con Nats – Theatre Now