director John Schlesinger
Cold Comfort Farm is the third film that I queued up after reading an Entertainment Weekly article listing the best films “you haven’t seen” of the last 25 years. I recalled it coming out and its buzz and popularity, but I never got around to seeing it for whatever reason, and really, it’s not the kind of film that I queue up regularly.
Directed late in the career of John Schlesinger (Billy Liar (1963), Midnight Cowboy (1969), Marathon Man (1976), to name a few), it was actually produced for British television, though was given theatrical release in the States.
Adapted from a 1932 novel by Stella Gibbons, it is a bit of a send up of the dire, hard life sagas of the small village English that became a stereotype in some of the later Victorians and beyond. It’s the story of Flora Paste (Kate Beckinsale), a modern, urbane young thing who goes to live with her poor relations when family tragedies put her in need. These overtly grouchy, grimy, gritty, earthy characters are played out to comic extremes, with surnames like Starkadder, Lambsbreath, and Doom. But all it takes is a little modern attitude and some prodding from the spritely Flora to exorcise Cold Comfort Farm of its gloom and misery. By the end of the film, everybody is matched up and happy as clams.
It makes for the cheerful, easy entertainment that one could easily watch with one’s in-laws. It is clever and quite fun. Some of the actors are better than others. At the top end you have Ian McKellen and Joanna Lumley in small but very character-driven parts. Some others are more average and a couple are a bit over the top. Interestingly, Kate Beckinsale is quite good and charming. I guess this is before her whole Goth Sci-Fi transformation in the Underworld (2003) series. I didn’t even know she could smile.
I guess in a list of overlooked films of the past quarter century, maybe this would count. Maybe not. It’s certainly a charming enough diversion.