“Cold Comfort Farm, (1995), a 105 minute period romantic comedy, is a real odd duck among British films. It was, firstly, made as a television movie, as a collaboration of the BBC and Thames International, ordinarily rivals. I don’t know what that’s all about, never seen that partnership elsewhere. But perhaps putting together the remarkable aggregation of talent before and behind the camera in this enterprise was so expensive that the production required the resources of the two firms. At any rate, somebody took a look at that talented collection of people, and gave the film a theatrical release, in which it did quite nicely, thank you. In 1930s London, 20-year old Flora Poste, a pretty young debutante with ambitions to write, suddenly finds herself orphaned, and she’s inherited only ₤100/year. So she must go to live on the farm with the Starkadders, a group of her nutty, unsophisticated rural cousins, who apparently believe they’ve done her father and family some unspecified injury. Ada Doom, the bed-ridden, iron-willed matriarch of the farm objects strongly, but Flora, who loves cleanliness, tidiness and order, tries to achieve some in the tumbledown higgledy-piggledy house, in the lives of its occupants -- and in her own life. For a TV movie, the investment in talent must have been quite substantial. The production is, of course, based on the beloved novel of the same name COLD COMFORT FARM, by Stella Gibbons, who collaborated on the screenplay with Malcolm Bradbury, author of at least one very funny novel that I’ve loved for years, THE HISTORY MAN. The enterprise was directed by the big-screen prize-winning John Schlesinger (DARLING, MIDNIGHT COWBOY). Kate Beckinsale made her film debut in the production, giving no hint of the sort of movies she was later to star in, such as the UNDERWORLD QUADRILOGY. The greatly talented Dame Eileen Atkins (CRANFORD) stars as the gloomy Judith Starkadder. Sheila Burrell (THE SIX WIVES OF HENRY VIII) creates a vigorous Ada Doom, who saw something nasty in the woodshed as a child. Comic Stephen Fry (STEPHEN FRY COLLECTION) gives us an unbuttoned Mybug, novelist vacationing in the area. Freddie Jones (THE CAESARS) is an endearing Adam Lambsbreath, farm hand. Joanna Lumley (AB FAB) makes an impression as Flora’s wealthy, glamorous aunt, Mrs. Mary Smiling. The great Sir Ian McKellen (RICHARD III) gives us a spirited Amos Starkadder, preacher of hellfire and damnation, who discovers he yearns after a Ford van. Miriam Margolyes, (IMMORTAL BELOVED) whom many considered the best actress living in her time, plays Mrs. Beetle. The uncommonly tall, dark, charismatic and handsome Rufus Sewell plays the uncommonly tall, dark, charismatic and handsome Seth Starkadder, just as he plays the similarly gifted title character in ZEN. Rupert Penry-Jones (WHITECHAPEL) turns up as Dick Hawk-Monitor, beloved by the Starkadder girl; Angela Thorne and Tim Myers play his none-too happy about it mother and father. Christopher Bowen is Charles Fairford, airplane-flying minister to be, who is a little in love with Flora. Many viewers will find some more familiar favorites in smaller parts. The film’s nicely done, with quite a light touch, while showing us lovely panoramas of the countryside that Schlesinger, often considered an urban filmmaker, was entirely capable of delivering. Clothes, cars, airplanes, kitchen tools all look era-appropriate. Mind you, the film’s more of a constant chuckle than a guffaw. There is an older version of this film, also quite entertaining; starring Dame Judi Dench, but it’s hard to get hold of now. Luckily, this one will do quite well, thank you.
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