Cinemalphabet: C is for Cold Comfort Farm (1995)
I have never read a single review of this film, but I’d bet donuts to dollars the favorable ones are populated with phrases like, “delightfully witty” “charm and cheek for days” and so forth. This, of course, makes sense given that’s exactly how I’d describe this delightful witty film with charm and cheek for days. Based on the novels of Stella Gibbons, Cold Comfort Farm tells the story of some seriously put upon rural British folks, played with aplomb by one of the most impressive casts of Brit acting titans this side of Love Actually.
Under most circumstances I don’t think a British comedy of manners screams, “Get me the dude who directed Marathon Man and Midnight Cowboy!” but there it is – the divine (and late) John Schlesinger, whose nimble direction keeps making me go, “Wait, this is the same guy who directed Falcon and the Snowman??? Far out!”
And I hate to play favorites amongst the crowded field of standout performances, but by far my favorite belongs to Dame Eileen Atkins. Atkins is spectacular as the eccentric Judith Starkadder who spends much of her time as Cold Comfort Farm’s resident prognosticator of doom. Her chemistry with Kate Beckingsale (who is well cast as Flora) is wonderful. Atkins is doing some of her best work in this unglamorous role. I absolutely love Judith Starkadder and how skillful Atkins portrays her. Of all the actors Atkins seems most adept at walking the fine line between send up and mocking. Everyone is wonderful and clear – thanks to Schlesinger – the film is not an examination of class relations, but rather an examination of the comedy of manners genre itself. And they get a great deal of assistance from the Malcolm Bradbury who cowrote the script. Bradbury wrote one of my favorite comedy of manners novels, the wildly un-pc and hilarious Eating People is Wrong and his sublime command of satire is well on display in Cold Comfort Farm.