I can’t believe we’ve never done a full review of Cold Comfort Farm (1995), especially since it is high up there on our list of favorite movies. So, today we are going to be rectifying this oversight and devoting this post to all the fabulous costumes by Amy Roberts in this classic comedy about a wacky family and one girl’s determination to sort all of their problems out.
Based on the 1932 novel by Stella Gibbons, the film is set in the interwar years and focuses on the exploits of Flora Poste, a young woman with aspirations of becoming the next Jane Austen, who decides to visit her distant relatives, the eccentric Starkadders, in hopes of finding some useful material for her novel. Her life with the Starkadders on their sprawling and rundown estate begins to turn towards trying to fix their lives for the better, accidentally sorting herself out in the process.
Flora, played by Kate Beckinsale, is very much a spiritual descendent of Jane Austen’s Emma (coincidentally, Beckinsale would play Emma the following year), but vastly more likable. Though she is young and relatively inexperienced, she feels London holds no more use for her after the deaths of her parents and decides to strike out to learn more about her distant relations in Sussex, theorizing that the change of scenery will help inspire her to write a novel to rival Austen’s Persuasion. There she finds a family living on a once grand estate called Cold Comfort Farm that has decayed into squalor after the matriarch, her aunt Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), “saw something nasty in the woodshed” as a child which somehow or another was so horrifying that she kept rigid control over the rest of her family to prevent anyone else from ever having to endure what she did. The result is that the family is isolated and shunned by their neighbors, and in quite a desperate state by the time Flora shows up.
The cast includes Ian McKellan as Amos Starkadder, a man with deep religious convictions; Miriam Margoyles, as Mrs. Beetle, who is possibly a cousin, or some other vaguely related person who has a crush on Reuben Starkadder (Ivan Kaye); Rufus Sewell as Seth Starkadder, the oversexed cousin who spends far more time having sex than doing actual work; the fabulous Eileen Atkins, as Judith Starkadder, Amos’ wife and Seth’s mother, who is uncomfortably obsessed with her son; and Maria Miles as the appropriately named Elfine Starkadder, a wisp of a girl who spends her days dancing in the woods and catches the eye of the son of the neighboring gentleman. The cast is rounded out with bookended parts played by Joanna Lumley as Flora’s mentor in London, Mrs. Mary Smiling, and Stephen Fry as Mybug, a gentleman acquaintance of Flora’s who fancies himself both an intellectual titan and Flora’s suitor, and is really neither.
Have you seen Cold Comfort Farm? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!
OMG Stephen Fry is in this? Top of my list!
This was an early date movie for me and the now-wife.
I understand that this was in part a satire: a Jane Austin heroine in the Thomas Hardy countryside. (And we would love to have a white tourney van with the license frame “There be no butter… in Hell.”)
It was also satiring Mary Webb’s “overwrought” rural-set novels. Which … yeah, most of Mary Webb’s books are rather ridiculous, but Precious Bane is a rare and beautiful thing and one of my favourite books of all time.
I had forgotten this movie; I saw it when it was new and it truly is a gem. Off to rediscover.
Saw this a long time ago; thought it strange but funny. Maybe Seline would have sorted it out better. Fantastic cast.
This looks so funny! Already reserving it from the library…
My dream double bill is this and “Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day.” We could only find Miss Pettigrew in the available pool. Any suggestions on who might have Cold Comfort for streaming? We howled laughing when we saw it the first time . . . and now we have a woodshed of our own.
One of my all time favourites! But I think you confused Mrs Beetle with Rennet Starkadder. Mrs Beetle is Meriam’s mother.
One of the few movies I can think of that does complete, or almost complete, justice to a wonderful book. (The novel is full of made-up local dialect, of the sort loved by Hardy and Lawrence in their most intense blood-and-soil-and-life-force moods. Seth likes to mollock. And Significant Scenes Conveying the Author’s Message are marked with an asterisk, sometimes two.)
I’m sorry, I got all woozy about he middle of the page with that picture of Rufus Sewell.
Me too! I am a total sucker for the the dark sultry type! I also have a Woman Crush on Joanna Lumley.
I loved this movie so much–the cow named “Feckless!” The uncle’s “liddle mop!” and so, so much more!
The original novel is actually near-future SF – aeroplanes are far more universal and routine than they were at the time or even now, and Flora’s London gentleman friend is a veteran of a war between Britain and Nicaragua.
I’ve always felt that Kate Beckinsale achieved a better Emma in this movie than in her actual adaptation of Emma. (Though to be fair, my complaints with the version of Emma that she starred in are mostly not due to her.)