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She can't endure a mess
on 21 February 2012
"Cold Comfort Farm," Stella Gibbons' hilarious literary satire, is brought to life in this polished TV adaptation. Faithful to its source but never stuffy, the adaptation is full of solid performances and entertaining subplots and romance, even if it is a bit slow at times.
Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) is suddenly orphaned with only 100 pounds a year -- a piddling amount of money in high-society London. She aspires to be the next Jane Austen, and has no skills besides writing. (And given the number of times we hear "golden orb," writing isn't too good either) So she agrees to go live at Cold Comfort Farm. The farm is well-named -- it's dirty, primitive, and broke.
The backwater inhabitants include sex-and-movies-obsessed Seth (Rufus Sewell), hellfire preacher Amos (Ian McKellen), his depressed wife Judith (Eileen Atkins), and the unhinged old Aunt Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who "saw something nasty in the woodshed." Not to mention Elfine (Maria Miles), a farm girl in love with a young blueblood. With practicality to spare, Flora sets up love matches, fixes up the family feuds, and tidies up the homestead.
Take some nineteenth century novel's most primitive farms, and plop a practical, thoroughly independent young woman in the middle of it. Add a few dark mysteries -- what are Flora's "rights?" What did Aunt Ada see? -- and you have "Cold Comfort Farm." Stella Gibbons had a subtle, wry sense of humor, and the movie adaptation keeps the spirit alive.
It's lots of fun to see Flora cleaning up house, both literally and figuratively. She keeps trying to arrange everyone's lives so, in the long run, they'll be happy -- while postponing what might make herself happy. The plot moves at a rather slow clip, sprinkled with fun scenes like Elfine's makeover, or Amos's frenetic sermon (complete with graphic descriptions of hell's torments). Not to mention the dozens of funny lines, like Amos's deadpan, "Seth, you drain the well -- there's a neighbor missing."
Kate Beckinsale does a wonderful job as the no-nonsence Flora Poste. She's backed up by good performances: Stephen Fry's obnoxiously overenthusiastic Mr. Mybug, an unwanted suitor of Flora's, and Joanna Lumley as Flora's best pal and bra collector. Ian McKellen is particularly good as a wild-haired hellfire preacher. And Eileen Atkins drifts around in a morbid, pop-eyed stupor as Judith Starkadder.
"Cold Comfort Farm" is jolly good fun, a warm-hearted satire with plenty of excellent acting. Good fun for anyone who likes to poke fun at costume dramas and gothic family secrets.