Cold Comfort Farm

on May 10, 1996 by Ed Scheid
   Made for British TV, this was Telluride's most popular film, which hosted a John Schlesinger tribute; theclips made clear his tradition of capturing superb details and impressive performances -- a tradition continued here. "Cold ComfortFarm" is based on Stella Gibbons' 1932 literary satire of thenovels of D.H. Lawrence and Thomas Hardy. (Ironically, Schlesingerdirected Hardy's "Far From the Madding Crowd.")
   When Flora Poste ("Much Ado About Nothing's" Kate Beckinsale)becomes orphaned and poor, she confides to her brassiere-collectingsocialite friend (Joanna Lumley) that instead of working she'lllive with relatives so that when she's 53 she'll have observedenough to write a novel "as good as `Persuasion,' but in a modernsetting." To atone for a mysterious wrong done Flora's father, hergrim cousin Judith Starkadder (Eileen Atkins) invites her to stayat the gloomy Cold Comfort Farm, riddled with eccentric relatives.Judith's stern husband (Ian McKellen) is a minister who whips hiscongregation into a frenzy, shouting "the world will burn but wewill quiver!" Judith has a bedroom shrine to her son (RufusSewell), whose main activities are getting local girls pregnant andwashing his chest at the pump. Then there's the matriarch whorarely leaves her room. Rather than be overcome, Flora tries toradically alter Cold Comfort Farm, even as she avoids the constantpursuit of an obnoxious neighbor (Stephen Fry).
   Schlesinger keeps the action fast-paced with droll surprises.He's so effective in evoking the farm's oppressive atmosphere atthe start that our amusement at Flora's clever changes is enhanced.Beckinsale holds her own with the sharp characterizations byAtkins, McKellen and Lumley. In fact, each cast member makes themost of the witty script in this captivating comedy, one of the year's most enjoyable films.    Starring Kate Beckinsale, Ian McKellen and Rufus Sewell. Directed by John Schlesinger. Written by Malcolm Bradbury. Produced by Alison Gilby. No distributor set. Comedy. Not yet rated. Running time: 98 min.
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