Writer-director Whit Stillman returned on Saturday to the Sundance Film Festival (16 years after his Manhattan-set comedy of manners “Metropolitan” premiered here and established him as a Gen-X cool-kid auteur) with the frothy, flirty and made-for-fashion-lovers film “Love & Friendship, reuniting his “Last Days of Disco” stars Kate Beckinsale and Chloë Sevigny. “I haven’t been employable since the 1990s,” Stillman joked before the premiere at Eccles Theater.
Based on Jane Austen’s novella “Lady Susan,” the period piece feels current and clever due to Stillman’s adaptation — and elaboration — of the original text. “I’ve been accused of being set in Georgian times all the time, but Jane Austen has been inspirational for a lot of people and it was a great way to bring ‘Lady Susan’ to a wider audience. For those of us who wanted more Jane Austen books in the library, this is the chance of having something else be available in film,” he said.
Beckinsale channeled her own glamor-puss-meets-dry-wit persona into the title character, delivering one of her best performances to date. When asked which of her character’s traits she related most to, she shrugged, “I’m a scheming b—h.” Laughing, she added, “There’s really nothing I can say. She’s quite clever? I was good at English?”
Sevigny, who plays Lady Susan’s American confidante, was glad to be reunited with Beckinsale. “The band was back together. It’s nice to have the familiarity already there.” Added Beckinsale, referring to the New York book editor frenemies they played in “Disco,” “And it was nice to be less mean to Chloë this time.”
Just as enjoyable as the dialogue were the costumes by Eimer Ni Mhaoldomhnaigh, which, at Stillman’s request, were a more sumptuous, sexy, French-inspired take rather than the plainer, Empire-waisted dresses typical of Austen’s era. “I was very surprised we had all of our costumes made from scratch,” said Beckinsale. “There were several for each character, each extraordinary, lovely fabrics and really attentive to the character. I think Chloë had the most outrageous ones — there were more boobs in Chloë ’s wardrobe.”