Picks and Pans Review: Cold Comfort Farm
In this heavy-handed and tediously arch English comedy, Beckinsale, a prim Helena Bonham-Carter type, plays a bratty young London woman of the 1930s who wants only to pile up life experiences so she can write a novel like Jane Austen. Short on funds, she ends up on her cousins' Sussex farm, where she mostly patronizes her rustic relatives, suggesting that they have afternoon tea, wash their curtains and use birth control. Stephen Fry, the lumpy English comic, plays a neighbor who lusts futilely after Beckinsale, and Maria Miles plays a naive girl Beckinsale gussies up into a debutante so she can marry a twitty socialite. Lumley, not so amusing outside the snarly confines of her BBC series, Absolutely Fabulous, portrays Beckin sale's pompous London friend who is preoccupied with her collection of historic foundation garments.
Director John Schlesinger and screenwriter Malcolm Bradbury, adapting a novel by Stella Gibbons, are big on D.H. Lawrence allusions but inept with humor, and much of the dialogue is performed in a rural dialect that barely sounds like English. At least the esteemed Shakespearean Ian McKellen, who shows up as a hell-obsessed country preacher, speaks comprehensibly, though his lines aren't any more enjoyable than the others'. By the time the movie reaches its uneventful end, it has become The Beverly Hillbillies Meet Thoroughly Modern Millie. The days of the great satiric English comedies with Peter Sellers and Sir Alec Guinness are clearly long gone. (PG)