Wednesday, March 19, 2014

Cold Comfort Farm


I spent yesterday filming the new Meow Mix commercial. Our director, the talented David Fincher, was a dream and the camera crew was careful to film only my left profile. I was an absolutely enchanting Grizabella until the large Firestone tire that carried me to the heavens blew slightly before its cue and sent several technicians to the hospital. I sent them a lovely get well card. I would have sent flowers as well but the fire did singe the edges of the Blackglama sable that was part of the costume and I blame stage management.  At least I escaped the Michael Jackson hair do. After postproduction, I've been promised that the commercial will premiere in an important time slot on something called the WB network. As a former Warner Brothers' star, I find this very apropos.

I had to race from the soundstage to my second campaign debate in my ongoing quest to become the new animal control officer for the city of Beverly Hills. My worthy opponent, whom Norman and I are now referring to as 'The Rug' as his hairpiece is even more blatant than Kevin Spacey's, and I spent an hour answering questions about our plans for coyote control. I was simply devastating in dusty rose satin and the ornamentation allowed me to see the teleprompter this time. It was unfortunate, however, that the lifetime supply of Meow Mix, a little gift for my participation in the commercial shoot, arrived in the middle of the debate. There I was, surrounded by pallets of cat food boxes coming in by forklift. Fortunately, only one of the pallets slipped and burst all over the stage and at least it was kibble and not the messy soft kind.

After such a busy day, Norman and I decided that we were in the mood for something light and fun so we slipped Cold Comfort Farm into the home theater system when we returned home. All that work with animal feed had somehow gotten the country juices flowing and I felt a need to gaze upon tranquil pastoral scenes with a few cows or sheep wandering by but without the smells of actually being there. Cold Comfort Farm is a gem of a film, made for British television by John Schlessinger in 1995, and accorded a theatrical release in this country on the art house circuit. It's based on a classic British comic novel of the 1930s of the same name and is the account of the high minded Miss Flora Poste's arrival at the titular farm and her determination to make things better for her somewhat peculiar relatives, the Starkadders.

Flora (Kate Beckinsale) is recently orphaned, and being of the upper classes (but without an upper class income) she is forced to turn to one of her many relatives for a place to live. She selects the Starkadder family of Cold Comfort Farm, distant cousins, who take her in over the "great wrong" once done to her father (what this wrong is remains somewhat obscure). There she finds her cousin Judith Starkadder (Eileen Atkins) a hopeless depressive, besotted with her son Seth (Rufus Sewell). Seth has dreams of being a movie star; his brother Reuben, of being a gentleman farmer and his sister Elphine is in love with the local squire's son despite her missing a certain grace and polish. Amos Starkadder (Ian McKellen), the father, preaches fire and brimstone sermons and is unhappy with the farming life and overseeing all is grandma Ada Doom (Sheila Burrell), who is an agoraphobic ruling the clan with an iron hand as she "once saw something nasty in the woodshed". Miss Flora moves in and primly sets about reordering all their lives with a little help from her London friends.

The humor in the movie is of a very British turn and requires some understanding of British society and mores. The jokes involve character and situation and the eccentricities of living rather than bodily functions and explosions. The actors, fine British character actors all, obviously revel in their roles and enjoy bringing the somewhat addlebrained inhabitants of Cold Comfort Farm to life. This is the dry whimsical humor of the Masterpiece Theater variety and not the broad comedy of Monty Python or Mr. Bean. It is something of an acquired taste but those who enjoy such things as the plays of Alan Ayckbourn and the performances of Penelope Keith will be in their element. The best word for this film is charming. It, like the farm and the eccentrics, may take a while to warm up to but it will slyly seduce you into its offbeat world if you let it.

Schlessinger obviously has great affection for his odd cast of characters and puts even the most dubious amongst them into a wonderful mélange of food, flowers and fun at the end. Malcom Bradbury’s screenplay captures the odd twists of language from Stella Gibbon’s original novel and the richnessof the characters therein. Some of the slang and dialect may be incomprehensible to modern America but does not detract from the sense or the enjoyment.

Brassiere collectors. Obnoxious movie producers. Bad writers. Gratuitous flying machine. Germanic psychiatrists. London nightclubs. Engagement parties. Fashionable travel magazines. Gratuitous half naked Rufus Sewell.

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