Has anyone ever explored the idea, a’la the much written-about Pixar theory, that all of Whit Stillman’s characters are simply reincarnated versions of one another, and therefore set in the same universe? Of course, Audrey Rouget appears in both Metropolitan and The Last Days of Disco. But if it was to be taken further, in that case, Love & Friendship is the beginning of the universe we’ve been privileged to see thus far, before Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale) became club-hopping college graduate Charlotte in the dying days of Studio 54’s heyday (The Last Days of Disco) and then part of New York’s debutante scene (Metropolitan), before regenerating as the overzealous and imaginative Violet (Damsels in Distress).
Lady Susan is not strictly a Stillman creation. The film is based on Jane Austen’s novella of the same name, but the combination of the two couldn’t seem more natural. Stillman is well versed in comedies of manners about eccentrics that don’t quite belong in their own decade.The debutantes in Metropolitan bemoan the end of rarefied tradition with the balls that are now broadcast on television, consumed as popular entertainment. Violet exhibits a particular penchant for tap dancing as a treatment for depression, and favours old-school social mores and dressing. Here, Lady Susan is a quick-witted and penniless widow who, outside usual Stillman tradition, belongs in the future instead of the past. She’s taken up residence at her in-laws’ estate, trying to play matchmaker for her daughter Frederica (Morfydd Clark), who she describes as “the greatest simpleton on earth”, while trying to charm an unsuspecting and wealthy man of her own.