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Laramie Movie Scope:
Love and Friendship

Enthralling romantic comedy adaptation of Jane Austen's novella

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by Patrick Ivers, Film Critic
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(2016) The Manwarings at Langford and the Vernons at Churchill are presented individually, each with brief description. Upon hearing from his brother-in-law Charles (Justin Edwards) and sister Catherine DeCourcy Vernon (Emma Greenwell) of Lady Susan Vernon's impending arrival, having departed Langford, Reginald DeCourcy (Xavier Samuel) exclaims: "Congratulations on being about to receive the most accomplished flirt in all England." Charles immediately defends Lady Susan's reputation as having been misconstructed out of "jealousy" after her "grave misfortune" of becoming a widow without income.

On Edward St in London, Mrs Alicia Johnson (Chloë Sevigny), an American exile married to an older English husband, says to her dear friend Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale), "Mr Johnson forbids me seeing you," following a report of the widow's conduct at Langford where Lady Susan tried to convince her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark) to accept the marriage proposal of Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett) after contriving to dissuade the "vastly rich, rather simple" suitor to forsake Maria Manwaring (Sophie Radermacher) for Frederica.

Lady Susan with her impoverished friend Mrs Cross (Kelly Campbell) come to Churchill to spend time with her brother-in-law Charles and Catherine, whose marriage she'd opposed. Speaking to Mrs Cross of Reginald, Lady Susan confides: "At first, his conversation betrayed a sauciness and familiarity, which is my aversion. But since, I've found a quality of callow idealism, which rather interests me…. He might be an agreeable flirt." She concludes: "How delightful it will be to humble the pride of these pompous DeCourcys."

At Parklands, Sir Reginald DeCourcy (James Fleet) rushes off when his wife Lady DeCourcy (Jemma Redgrave) reads a letter from their daughter Catherine about their sole son Reginald's becoming enamored with Lady Susan Vernon. "A permanent connection between you and Lady Susan Vernon would destroy every comfort of our lives," warns Sir Reginald, to which his son replies: "What you imagine is impossible." Director and writer Whit Stillman's adaptation of Jane Austen's novella, Lady Susan, is an enthralling romantic comedy; at the close of the end credits a message encourages viewers to read Austen's book.

As Mrs Cross departs for a paid position elsewhere, news reaches Lady Susan that Frederica has run off from school; Charles returns with the girl. Surreptitiously Lady Susan continues to meet with Alicia employing subterfuge. When a gentleman approaches her, calling out her name, Lady Susan rebukes at him: "How dare you address me, sir! Be gone or I'll have you whipped!" When Alicia inquires if Lady Susan knows him, she replies: "I know him well. I would never speak to a stranger like that."

Strolling with Reginald back at Churchill, Lady Susan says of Frederica: "Having children is our fondest wish, but in doing so, we breed our acutest critics…. Of course, when the little ones are very small, there's a kind of sweetness which partially compensates for the dreadfulness which comes after."

The ridiculous Sir James arrives in pursuit of Frederica who will not have him. Lady Susan counsels her daughter with reasons ("life of comfort") for welcoming the courtship: "We don't live, we visit." When mother reminds daughter of the Fourth Commandment (according to the Catholic Bible, not Protestant, as the parish pastor later points out), "Honour-Thy-Father-And-Mother," Frederica objects: "I know the Commandments-but not their order." Her parent complains: "See, this is what comes of an irregular education!"

The gregarious silly fool, however, further demonstrates his lack of sense when he remarks on the twelve commandments in Scripture: "So, Frederica, you read both poetry and verse? In this I believe you take after your mother, who knows a great many things. Just yesterday she cited to me a story from the Bible about a very wise king. This reminded me of many such accounts one learns in childhood. Perhaps the most significant in forming one's principles is that of the old prophet who came down from the mount with tablets bearing the Twelve Commandments-which our Lord has taught us to obey without fail."

Corrected by Reginald that there are Ten Commandments, Sir James says: "Oh really? Only Ten must be obeyed? Well, then… which two to take off? Perhaps the one about the Sabbath. I prefer to hunt."

Persuaded to reveal her troubles, Frederica tells Reginald of her not wanting to marry Sir James, making application for him to intercede against her mother's prohibition to speak with the Vernons. Lady Lucy Manwaring (Jean Murray) comes weeping to Mr Johnson, protesting of Lady Susan's being alone with her husband, Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearáin). In reference to the scene of sobs, Lady Susan, expressing sympathy for her friend's circumstances with a husband "Too old to be governable, too young to die," says to Alicia: "Fact are horrid things."

To Reginald, Lady Susan after explaining her honorable, innocent motive of being alone with Lord Manwaring, declares: "That you could doubt my actions, my intentions, my word…. I cannot marry a man with an untrusting disposition." Hearing of the breakup of the undesirable engagement, Catherine, nonetheless, worries that her brother will yet be turned by the diabolical genius of Lady Susan.

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Copyright © 2016 Patrick Ivers. All rights reserved.
Reproduced with the permission of the copyright holder.
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Patrick Ivers can be reached via e-mail at nora's email address at juno. [Mailer button: image of letter and envelope]

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