Love and Friendship: (U) 93 mins. Stars Kate Beckinsale, Chloe Sevigny, Xavier Samuel, Justin Edwards, Emma Greenwell and James Fleet.

SET in the late 18th century, Love and Friendship is a period romantic comedy based on Jane Austen's novella Lady Susan, and is a very British tale of stifled emotions, rigid etiquette and intriguing deception.

Written and directed by New York-born Whit Stillman, the film follows the story of a widow with a gift for scandalous suggestion, and she wrecks romances and undermines friendships with no concern for her unsuspecting victims.

Stillman gifts this peach of a role to Kate Beckinsale, and she does not disappoint.

Lady Susan Vernon (Beckinsale) is concerned about the rumours that have begun to circulate about her relationship with smitten suitor Lord Manwaring (Lochlann O'Mearain) and so she seeks refuge with her late husband's family on their vast estate.

Charles Vernon (Justin Edwards) is blind to Lady Susan's capacity for mayhem, but his wife, Catherine (Emma Greenwell), is less trusting, especially when their house guest charms her handsome younger brother, Reginald (Xavier Samuel).

Complicating matters, Lady Susan must find a wealthy suitor for her daughter, Frederica (Morfydd Clark), and she resolves to force a love match with Sir James Martin (Tom Bennett).

Lady Susan's trusted friend, Alicia Johnson (Chloe Sevigny), has burdened herself with an older husband (Stephen Fry), who is described by Lady Susan as ‘too old to be governable, too young to die’.

As the web of lies unravels, Lady Susan must think quickly on her feet to maintain her standing.

The period detail and costumes are impeccable, but it is Stillman's reinvention of Austen's little-known novella that glitters brightest.

Beckinsale oozes butter-wouldn't-melt sweetness as she leaves desolation in her wake, running rings around men by exploiting her sex's bountiful charms.

Back-handed compliments create so much laughter in some scenes that a couple of one-liners are lost in our mounting delirium.

Love and Friendship is the purest distillation of Jane Austen’s work yet to grace the screen, and is a must see for period film fans.