Whit tries Jane
By Deborah Yaffe, Feb 5 2015 02:00PM
Best Jane Austen news of the week (at least potentially): Shooting is about to start on director Whit Stillman’s movie of Lady Susan, starring Kate Beckinsale as the predatory Lady Susan Vernon, Chloe Sevigny as her poisonous friend Alicia Johnson, and Stephen Fry as Alicia’s hapless older husband.
The project has inexplicably been called Love & Friendship, presumably to mess with the heads of Janeites knowledgeable enough to recognize a juvenilia title when they see it. As far as I’m aware, it’s the first filmed dramatization of Austen’s novella, which itself is sui generis in her oeuvre: her only substantial epistolary story, and the only story whose protagonist is a villain. Seldom, very seldom, do we get a truly brand new Austen project, and I for one am pretty excited.
Whit Stillman is a director I have mixed feelings about. I very much enjoyed Barcelona, The Last Days of Disco and Metropolitan (which some people seem to think is a Mansfield Park update, though I don’t really agree), but I’m still mourning the ninety-nine minutes of my life spent watching the relentlessly whimsical, pretty much intolerable Damsels in Distress.
At his best, Stillman is a great deadpan observer of Species WASP. At his worst, he’s. . . pretty much intolerable. Here’s hoping that Austen brings out his best.
The mere idea of Stephen Fry as gouty Mr. Johnson will be enough to ensure my presence at this one.
Oh, yes, he's going to be great. Not sure If Kate Beckinsale is going to work as Lady Susan -- ideally, I think you should be half-rooting for Susan to defeat her antagonists, and I've always found Beckinsale a somewhat cold and repellant actress -- but I'd be happy to be proved wrong.
I am cautiously excited about this. There are 3 novel adaptations of Lady Susan, one by Phyllis Karr, one by Jane Rubino and Caitlin Rubino Bradway, one by Helen Baker. The 2nd one comes off as the most 'Austen sounding.' There was also some buzz a few years ago about the TV adaptation by Lucy Prebble - what happened to that?
You hit it with "deadpan" - can Stillman inject the much needed pizzazz into Lady Susan? I kind of like Kate Beckinsale better than Sienna Miller (who dropped out) but find myself thinking - if only Michelle Pfeiffer were 20 years younger!
I've read the Rubino/Rubino Bradway version and thought it was very good, but I wasn't aware of the others -- thanks for the new info. Good question about that Lucy Prebble thing -- I'd forgotten about that and never did hear what happened. My impression is that a lot of film projects, not just Austen ones, come to nothing as financing dries up or those involved drift away to other work.
As for Stillman, I think his wry tone might work well for Austen, who's pretty wry herself. It's all going to depend on the quality of the writing--but doesn't it always?