Director John Schlesinger returns to form with a delicious social satire made for British television that shames his limp American work following Midnight Cowboy, especially the recent and wretched Eye for an Eye, in which the skilled director of Sunday, Bloody Sunday and An Englishman Abroad aimed for a box-office jackpot and missed. His rudely funny take on the 1932 Stella Gibbons novel Cold Comfort Farm, with a clever script by Malcolm Bradbury, sets a raucous pace for a cast of master thespians.
The smashing Kate Beckinsale stars as Flora Poste, the sophisticated orphan who leaves a cushy berth with her rich London friend (AbFab’s Joanna Lumley) to live with uncouth relatives on a farm that would give D.H. Lawrence a shock in terms of rustic sin and animal urges.
The father (Ian McKellan) preaches hellfire, while the son Seth (Rufus Sewell) screws what’s handy and dreams of being a film star. The mother (a superb Eileen Atkins) relinquishes control of the dirty brood only to the matriarch Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who talks incessantly about seeing “something nasty in the woodshed.” The fun comes in watching Flora do a Martha Stewart make-over on the farm and its resident freaks, giving Schlesinger a chance to tweak the lower, middle and upper classes with equal glee.