Lisa Schwarzbaum
May 17, 1996 at 04:00 AM EDT

Cold Comfort Farm

Current Status
In Season
95 minutes
Joanna Lumley, Ian McKellen
John Schlesinger
Comedy, Drama
We gave it an A

Unflappable 1930s London society girl Flora Poste (Kate Beckinsale from Much Ado About Nothing), orphaned and fancying a career as a writer, picks the relatives with whom she’ll live next based on who will provide the most grist for her novelistic mill. And in Cold Comfort Farm, based on Stella Gibbons’ darkly funny 1932 novel of the same name, Flora reaps riches with the extraordinary eccentrics who populate a decrepit spread in the loamy countryside. The BBC once did a version of the book — it aired on Masterpiece Theatre 25 years ago — but this gloriously cheeky BBC-Thames TV adaptation directed by John Schlesinger proves there’s a need to retell Gibbons’ sly satire, which tweaked the chest-heaving D.H. Lawrence novels of her day. Cold Comfort is Babe-ish in its perfection: Schlesinger, working with a zingy script by Malcolm Bradbury, has created a burnished little world much like those in his other BBC films, An Englishman Abroad (1983) and A Question of Attribution (1991).

And oh, this delectable cast! Absolutely Fabulous‘ Joanna Lumley plays Flora’s London mentor. At the farm, Eileen Atkins (Indiscretions on Broadway), Ian McKellen (Richard III), Miriam Margolyes (The Age of Innocence), and the utterly dishy Rufus Sewell (Carrington) prattle on deliciously. Around town, Stephen Fry (Peter’s Friends), as a fluty artiste, dogs Flora with his devotion and declares, ”I’m engorgedly in love with you!” That’s how I feel about this gem. A

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