Although I think any movie starring Kate Beckinsale is a “must-see,” this period piece, based on the Jane Austen novella “Lady Susan,” doesn’t quite live up to the hype. It is, however, good enough to be a solid rental. Written and directed by Whit Stillman, the performances are uniformly good and the dialogue is often funny and clever, but it drags too much of the time.
The recently-widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) is an aristocrat, but without sufficient funds. She is living well beyond her means, and desperately needs to find herself a new husband, as well as one for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark). Lady Susan is cunning and manipulative, but, in her defense, in late 1790’s England, her only viable currency is her beauty and her wits.
Lady Susan is pressuring Frederica to marry Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett), a rich and amiable – but dim-witted – gentleman, but Frederica won’t go along. Meanwhile, she toys with a handsome and intelligent younger man, Reginald De Courcy (Xavier Samuel), but really is diabolically positioning herself to marry the recently-separated Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O’Mearáin).
Will Lady Susan’s master plan succeed or fail? Will Frederica submit to her mother’s pressure or find true love? You will have to see it to find out, but, if you can bear the suspense, I’d wait to rent it.