After making his mark with contemporary comedies of manners — many featuring well-off young folks delivering droll observations — director Whit Stillman goes to the source, adapting Jane Austen’s novella Lady Susan
. The widowed Lady Susan (Kate Beckinsale), the subject of whispers for her forthright and devious ways, sets herself up at her sniffy in-laws’ and embarks on a series of complicated schemes to find suitable (i.e. moneyed) husbands for herself and her daughter. There are a lot of players, but the two men of significance are the handsome young Reginald (Xavier Samuel) and the blithering idiot Sir James. (Of James, Susan tells her despairing daughter: “He has offered you the one thing of value that he has — his income.”) The handsome film offers pretty costumes and 18th-century locales, but it’s the machinations and deliciously arch dialogue that makes this tidy 90-minute comedy thoroughly enjoyable. Beckinsale is a delight, and Tom Bennett’s portrayal of James’ fidgety motor-mouthing is laugh-out-loud funny.