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Writer-director Whit Stillman is a master at capturing the bourgeoisie youth of New York, and his skills translate surprisingly well to the world of Jane Austen, the setting for his latest, “Love and Friendship.”

Stillman adapts Austen’s “Lady Susan” and is perfectly at home in late 1700s England in this spirited period comedy. The costumes, manicured lawns and impeccable interiors are all vintage Austen, and Stillman imbues his sense of dashing fun — as well as his love for language and sharp dialogue — into the bubbly story of Lady Susan Vernon (Kate Beckinsale, a treasure) and her quest to find a husband and stir up some trouble along the way.

Stillman introduces a dozen-plus characters with cheeky on-screen picture credits, including Chloë Sevigny (as Alicia Johnson, the story’s sole American), Morfydd Clark (as Vernon’s daughter, Frederica) and Xavier Samuel (as the dashing Reginald DeCourcy).

Gossip flies, fingers wag, walks are taken. Stillman doesn’t upend the Austen formula, he burrows into it and embraces all its trappings. The snappy dialogue, meanwhile, rewards a finely tuned ear and will thrill all lovers of language.

Tom Bennett, who plays the idiotic Sir James Bennett, is an absolute hoot, but “Love and Friendship” is Beckinsale’s show through and through. Beckinsale has been stuck in “Underworld” movies for so long (she’s currently filming the fifth installment, sigh) that it’s easy to forget she’s more than a leather-clad vampire warrior.

Reuniting with Stillman (she starred in 1997’s “The Last Days of Disco”), she’s conniving, razor-sharp and on top of her game, truly a Lady for all seasons.

agraham@detroitnews.com

(313) 222-2284

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‘Love and Friendship’

GRADE: B

Rated PG for some thematic elements

Running time: 92 minutes

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