In hindsight, Whit Stillman has been making contemporary Jane Austen adaptations for 25 years: romantic comedies of manners in which wit and language are used as a defense. Here, he’s adapting actual Jane Austen, specifically the novella Lady Jane, about a Regency-era widowed noblewoman (Kate Beckinsale) attempting to manipulate fortuitous matches for both herself and her reluctant daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). There’s more overt deviousness going on here than in more familiar Austen tales, and Beckinsale has a ball as a Lady Jane who knows how to play the game to perfection. Yet she still gets the movie stolen out from under her by Tom Bennett as the simple-minded landowner to whom she’s trying to marry off Frederica; he manages to make a guy endearing who is delighted by the concept of peas. The absence of a true conventional “hero” of the story makes it a bit challenging to engage with on an emotional level, but at a tight 92 minutes, Stillman manages something that’s more moment-to-moment hilarious than anything you’re likely to see on screen this year.
Director: Whit Stillman
Producer: Katie Holly, Lauranne Bourrachot and Whit Stillman
Cast: Kate Beckinsale, Xavier Samuel, Morfydd Clark, Emma Greenwell, Tom Bennett, James Fleet, Jemma Redgrave, Justin Edwards, Jenn Murray, Stephen Fry and Chloë Sevigny