Ideally, you should read the novel first, then read it again (you'll want to, badly). And then see the movie, which is one of those rare, perfectly satisfying adaptations (like the Jeremy Irons Brideshead Revisited). Even so, the movie is treasure regardless of whether you can follow the plot's intricacies and the goofy, made-up language or not. You will absorb the language and find yourself involuntarily "clettering the dishes," for example.
In a nutshell, this is a silly tale, a clever parody of the country romances of Brontës, Hardy, and Lawrence.
Kate Beckinsale (dewy and pre-cosmetic surgery) plays Flora Poste, a recently orphaned society girl who's low on funds. She decides to live with relatives she's never met, the Starkadders of Cold Comfort Farm in Sussex. They are a weird, unfulfilled bunch; it's as if they've read too many of the wrong rural novels. Brooding and grimy, they open their home to her in atonement for some unspeakable wrong they'd done to her father. (They always refer to her as "Robert Poste's Child.") Flora discovers that they are all trapped on the farm by their matriarch, Aunt Ada Doom. She rarely leaves her room but controls everyone's destiny with her fits and tirades if they don't do as she wishes. Why? Because she once "saw something nasty in the woodshed," when she was "no bigger than a titty-wren."
Life on the farm is just what Flora expected from reading too many novels herself. There are even two brooding, muscular cousins named Reuben and Seth, exactly as she predicted. ("They're all named Reuben. Or Seth.") She sets herself to the task of fixing each character's life.
"There has always been Starkadders at Cold Comfort Farm."
I won't say much more except to highlight some of the brilliant casting. Rufus Sewell smolders as the Seth, as ridiculously sexy as any farm lad could ever hope to be. He should do more comedy. I usually find him playing some powerful, cruel aristocrat in period dramas like The Illusionist.
Sexy Seth and a bull named Big Business.
Which is which, you may ask?
As you watch the film, you will also note Sewell's striking resemblance to Possum:
Possum, smoldering. He loved the movie,
despite not having read the book.
While Ian McKellen is inspired as a nutty preacher, Eileen Atkins is the real star, dominating every frame she's in, even without such lines as: "Reuben, drain the well. There's a neighbor missing." She achieves her best effects silently, and above the nose, by squinting, staring, and knitting her brows.
I've seen her recently as the domineering mother-in-law in the new Upstairs Downstairs (she and Jean Marsh were the series's co-creators about 40 years ago) and then again, last night, as a Russian princess in the first episode of Masterpiece's new Hercule Poirot series, Murder on the Orient Express. She's commanding, wonderful, and entirely different in every role. But I love her best as Aunt Judith Starkadder:
I'm hoping to look just like this in a few years,
especially if I get the same bad perm I had in college.
Since the Rapture was miscalculated and is now all set to happen on October 21, I think we will rent Cold Comfort Farm again five months from now, and enjoy another gleeful last night on earth — eating chocolate cupcakes on the sofa with the cats, the Starkadders, and the all-knowing Flora Poste. The world should end more often; it can be such fun if you plan it right.