TBT: Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

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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.

If I’m not careful, this entire post would become nothing but gifs of Stephen Fry’s character in this movie.

 

I love that his character is basically timeless. I’ve totally met guys like this.

 

Oh, hell. Here’s another one.

 

Kate Beckinsale in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Kate Beckinsale, as Flora Poste, jotting down notes for her great British novel as she waits for her relatives to pick her up and take her to Cold Comfort Farm.

 

Joanna Lumley as Mrs. Mary Smiling, a wealthy widow who has taken Flora under her wing after her parents’ deaths.

 

“Mrs. Smiling’s second interest was her collection of brassieres, and her search for a perfect one. She was reputed to have the largest and finest collection of these garments in the world, it was hoped that on her death it would be left to the nation.” — Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm.

 

Flora arrives at Cold Comfort Farm and, while her relations aren’t quite sure what to make of her, she decides that what they really need is her help.

 

Eileen Atkins as the neurotic Judith Starkadder, who has lived under her mother’s tyrannical rule her entire life. Her only comfort in life is her son, Seth.

 

Ian McKellen in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder, Judith’s husband. He’s more concerned with preaching against the sins of the flesh than having any interest in his family.

 

Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Rufus Sewell as Seth, who has Hollywood good looks, but no real aspirations other than sleeping with a prodigious number of local women.

 

Elfine, after Flora helps turn her into a presentable young lady, worthy of the attentions of a gentleman’s son.

 

The final scene, a celebratory wedding, and Aunt Ada herself has transformed into a magnificent matriarch due to Flora’s influence.

 

Stephen Fry - Cold Comfort Farm

Alright, one last shot of Mybug, rocking a fantastic striped linen suit.

 

And still trying to use the same terrible pick up line on the ladies.

 

Have you seen Cold Comfort Farm? Share your thoughts with us in the comments!

14 Responses

  1. Jeremy Fletcher

    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.”)

    Reply
    • Miriam Griffiths

      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.

      Reply
  2. Richard

    I had forgotten this movie; I saw it when it was new and it truly is a gem. Off to rediscover.

    Reply
  3. Michael McQuown

    Saw this a long time ago; thought it strange but funny. Maybe Seline would have sorted it out better. Fantastic cast.

    Reply
  4. Frances Germeshausen

    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.

    Reply
  5. M.E. Lawrence

    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.)

    Reply
  6. SarahV

    I’m sorry, I got all woozy about he middle of the page with that picture of Rufus Sewell.

    Reply
    • Roxana

      Me too! I am a total sucker for the the dark sultry type! I also have a Woman Crush on Joanna Lumley.

      Reply
  7. LondonKdS

    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.

    Reply

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