There is a subtle irony in the title of Love and Friendship—Whit Stillman's caustically glib and delightfully insouciant cinematic adaptation of the obscure Jane Austen novella Lady Susan—in that the film's protagonist appears to be uninterested in love and incapable of friendship.
Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsdale) in fact reveals herself in short order to be a loathsomely self-interested woman: manipulative, scheming, and cunning; the sort of individual who might today be labeled a "sociopath." Like most sociopaths, she possesses a high degree of intelligence, always masking the diabolical cadaverousness of her soul behind a sweet, soft voice and lovely smile.
Yet in spite of the anti-heroine's deep-rooted character flaws, Love and Friendship is far from being a depressing film. It does not linger excessively on pathological behavior, nor does it immerse the audience in despair by imparting a sense of overwhelming human evil. Instead, Lady Susan's deplorable nature is somehow ameliorated by the charm and decency of the courtly, refined, kind, and charitable culture in which she dwells (and whose very kindnesses she not infrequently exploits).