This satire of the traditional English period drama is a mixed bag. Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale) is the rich young woman forced to live with her hard working relatives, the Starkadders. However, unlike others in her situation, she relishes the opportunity to observe the poor working class, figuring she can use the experience for her future career as a novelist. The Starkadders live on a dirty omninous plot of land called Cold Comfort Farm. The family is presided over by Grandmother Ada Doom (Shelia Burrell), who spends most of her time locked away upstairs, constantly muttering about her girlhood trauma of seeing “something nasty in the woodshed”. Flora is welcomed by the Starkadders, who are repenting for some misdeed done to her father (they always address her as “Robert Poste’s child”). Of the motley crew that Flora must call her cousins, aunts and uncles, are: Judith (Eileen Atkins), the most superstitious of the lot, always foretelling gloom and despair. Amos (Ian McKellen) is the local minister, who believes everyone is doomed…there is no point in repenting, all you can do is quiver at the thoughts of what is to come. Elfine (Maria Miles), the flighty cousin, always dressing in green and frollicking in the forest. And then there are the two robust young lads, Seth (Rufus Sewell) and Reuben (Ivan Kaye), who are always present in this type of family. Rather than buckling under, Flora sets it as her goal to reform the lot…to make a few changes here and there, clean up the place a bit, and bring civilized culture to Cold Comfort Farm. This well meaning satire takes a while to get going. It works best in parts (Amos’ sermon and a Hollywood agent’s discovery of Seth are among the best), but at times gets a bit dreary (Elfine’s romance, for example, although a pivotal plot point, just doesn’t seem particularly inspired). Still, when it works, the humor is remarkably apt. This film marks a departure from director John Schlesinger’s prior work, but he takes up the task admirably. Overall, Cold Comfort Farm is an amusing diversion, occasionally better than the works it satirizes.
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