The golden orb shone on the heath and lazily it flew,
While muddy plows and barren cows belied a murky charm.
The water troughs reflected back the sky’s pathetic blue,
When Flora Poste arrived to host the old Cold Comfort Farm.
The quarters of the Starkadders had stood for centuries,
And honestly it looked it in its gloomy disrepair.
But deep beneath the seedy heath were possibilities,
And that’s why ‘twas a lucky thing that Flora Poste was there.
MPAA rating: PG
I checked out Cold Comfort Farm from my library based on the whimsical description on the back, which made it sound like a British version of Chevy Chase’s Funny Farm, but it’s something else. Based on a Stella Gibbons novel from 1932 and released first on the BBC, then in theaters, it’s a makeover lark with a humor that seems to defy easy categorization. Perhaps that’s because the charm is meant as contrast between the bourgeois sensibilities of Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale in one of her first roles) and the hyperbolic gloominess of her rural Starkadder relatives with whom she goes to stay at Cold Comfort Farm.
Determined to live off of her relations while working on a novel, Flora appeals for invitations and picks Cold Comfort in Sussex because it sounds “interesting and appalling” as opposed to the others, which are just appalling. There’s a strange old-world charm to the Starkadders, who continually refer to Flora as “Robert Poste’s child” and use fake archaic words like sukebind, scranlete, and clettering. Since the original book was meant as a parody of dreary rustic novels, it’s no surprise that the tone was as if the most melancholy portions of Wuthering Heights or Jane Eyre were played for laughs. Despite the large cast of characters, most of them have a moment to shine, such as Judith Starkadder (Eileen Atkins) with her Frau Blucher-like gravitas, her husband Amos (Ian McKellen) who delivers a fire-and-brimstone sermon that would make Jonathan Edwards quiver, their son Seth (Rufus Sewell) who loves the movies, their other son Reuben (Ivan Kaye) who hopes to run the farm himself one day, and several other colorful personages, all subjugated by the oppressive hand of Aunt Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who is haunted by seeing “something nasty in the woodshed” when she was a child. (Boy, that was a long sentence!)
After innocently asking if she might change a few things, Flora quickly takes it upon herself to bring this motley crew into the modern age, encouraging them in different ways to crawl out from under Aunt Ada’s thumb. Flora might have seemed like an overly nosy busybody, but Beckinsale plays her with earnest confidence in her self-appointed roles of matchmaker and wish granter, efforts met with surprising success. By the end, two questions on which the plot seemed to hang are entirely ignored in favor of blithe wish fulfillment, but it’s hard not to be won over by the appeal of a happy ending.
Cold Comfort Farm may not be a typical country farce, but its unconventional wit and talented cast (including Stephen Fry, Freddie Jones, and Joanna Lumley, by the way) make it an entertaining amusement.
Best line: (Amos) “There’ll be no butter in hell!”
Or for a line more indicative of the film’s Jane Austen-ish wit:
(Charles, Flora’s friend) “Do you ever think of getting married?”
(Flora) “I believe in arranged marriages, don’t you?”
(Charles) “Rather out of date.”
(Flora) “Not at all. I’ve always liked the phrase, ‘A marriage has been arranged.’ When I feel like it, I’ll arrange one.”
Rank: List Runner-Up
© 2016 S.G. Liput
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