14 May 2007 | MoviolaSteenbeck
Laughter, Soaked in Nature's Fecund Blessing
"Child, child. If you come to this doomed 'ouse, what is there to save you?"- Judith Starkadder in COLD COMFORT FARM.
The "child" in question is the lone offspring of one Robert Poste (deceased) and, as we are soon to discover, Poste's progeny, Flora, is hardly one in need of saving. Orphaned in her budding womanhood, nettled by the golden orb of an unrealized literary career, Flora strikes out from the discerning (or snobbish) urban sophistication of London ( leaving behind her good friend Mary and Mary's invaluable manservant, Sneller) and heads for the bucolic splendor of the Sussex countryside to lodge with her relatives, the Starkadders, and find herself.
She finds instead: a muck-begrimed tumbledown estate wherein resides a ready-for-Hollywood womanizer (Cousin Seth), an estate-coveting farmer (Cousin Reuben), a daffy romantic (Cousin Elfine), a too-loving mother (Cousin Judith), a 'vengeful god', proselytizing father (Cousin Amos), and an iron-willed matriarch (Greataunt Ada Doom). There's also a smattering of Lambsbreath (Adam) and a smidgen of Hawk-Monitor (Dick).
Inside the Starkadder fold Flora encounters a resistance to dish washing modernity (the twig versus the hand mop); the rumor of an unmentionable misdeed once perpetrated against her father; the oft-cited permanence of the Starkadders on their environs; and the matriarch's frequently mentioned trauma after having witnessed a particularly odious occurrence inside the outdoor log pile storage facility ("...something nasty in the woodshed"). Undaunted, Flora presents a cool brow and an almost impervious demeanor plus an extremely persuasive power to influence. Within COLD COMFORT FARM, where high fashion and applied scientific reasoning smash headlong into arrested sociological development and stunted personal/ familial growth, tear-inducing laughter is the order of the day.
As mentioned in the comments of others, Ms. Beckinsale, clad in her natty period togs and radiating a winsome, unflappable aura (while also projecting a strangely prepubescent vibe), hasn't had as good a role since Flora. Meanwhile, those master thespians, Freddie Jones, Ian McKellan, and the inimitable Eileen Atkins nearly go mad with delight as they burrow gleefully into their characters. Rufus Sewell's Seth smolders hilariously while Stephen Fry's Mybug, "soaked in nature's fecund blessing", blusters uproariously. This sort of comedy of manners and cultural collision required an intelligent, perceptive and witty director. John Schlesinger (DARLING, 1965) fit the bill gloriously.