Jane Austen’s unfinished novel hits screens with a thud. Tea cupboards swing wide with hospitality for the nearest of kin when they are widowed and destitute. Lady Susan, perfectly underplayed by Kate Beckinsale, overstays her welcome with two families.
She woos one husband into infidelity and a much younger man into a secret engagement. She is all coaxing and plotting with only her American friend as a confidant as they move from one drawing-room to the next taking tea in each space.
When her almost grown daughter enters the picture, a play for obedience turns to persuasion, and competition reigns. Who the winner is in the end is unknown as it screen cuts like the novel, without conclusion.
If you’ve read Austen, you’ll understand the quick cadence, the backward compliments, the heavy-handed jests and jabs at money and the heart. If you’ve seen any rendition of an Austen novel turned film, this one will both jolt and bore in comparison to her usual finality, idyllic beauty, and patient payoff.