(Air Date: Week Of 05/22/96)
"I have such a lot in common with Jane Austen," remarks Flora Poste, the redoubtable heroine of "Cold Comfort Farm." "Neither of us could endure mess." Don't touch that dial, friends--the chipper, charming satire of "Cold Comfort Farm" is light years removed from the recent spate of picturesque old-school British romances--and for that matter, precious Merchant-Ivory waxworks. If you can't remember the last time you laughed watching a British film--and who can?--"Cold Comfort Farm" is for you.
A BBC adaptation of Stella Gibbons' popular 1932 novel, "Cold Comfort Farm" centers on Flora Poste, a bright, sophisticated and recently orphaned young woman. With few options to choose from, she goes to live with her rural relatives, the Starkadders of cold Comfort Farm. A cross between inbred hillbillies and Gothic spooks, the Starkadders are a motley, filthy clan terrorized by their shut-in matriarch, Ada Doom.
The twisted family tree includes Ada's fatalistic daughter and her fire-and-brimstone preacher son-in-law (played by a raving Ian McKellen). Their two sons are a fine mismatched pair; one's a dumb burly bear while the other's a walking sex machine. This grotesque household also features a devoted housekeeper and her barely civilized daughter, an ugly duckling if ever one existed.
So in walks Flora, a bit taken aback, more than a little grossed out, but not the least bit intimidated by any of it. A woman of extraordinary will, she sets her energies to imposing order on the anarchy of Cold Comfort Farm. Naturally, comic situations abound, and veteran director John Schlesinger keeps the tempo brisk to keep the laughs flowing. And for added, pointed contrast, the film shuttles between the farm and the London glitter set.
Although everything about "Cold Comfort Farm" shines--the script, the acting, the sets--the movie soars on the strength of Kate Beckinsale, a future star who plays Flora. She reminds me of Parker Posey, with her pretty, angular features and sharp tongue. Fortunately, she also possesses the compassion and enthusiasm of the young Katherine Hepburn. Condescending or cruel only when it's clearly deserved, Beckinsale's Flora is that rarest of modern movie characters: a strong and desirable woman who has the audience rooting for her. Winona Ryder prays three times a day for roles like Flora; instead she gets "Aliens 4."
Copyright 1996 Michael Fox
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