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  • Writer's pictureDeborah Yaffe

Whit tries Jane

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.

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