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Nothing, but nothing, can beat the original novel by Stella Gibbons.
Ostensibly a parody of earthy novels such as "Precious Bane" and the
stuff by D.H. Lawrence, it is in fact a brilliant satire about the
human race and what makes us tick, or not tick at all.
The closest any dramatisation has come to capturing her philosophy was probably the BBC Radio 4 version. Sometimes radio has better pictures, because you create the visuals yourself.
This early TV version suffered visually from being studio-bound, presumably because that is how things were done in those days. It also suffered, visually at least, from being directed by Peter Hammond, who loved 'frames within frames' and getting sexual symbolism into every shot; perhaps fashionable at the time but now seen as cliché ridden and hackneyed. However, it has a good cast and although it is really creaky by today's standards it is worth seeing if only as an alternative to the later and in my opinion less interesting John Schlesinger version, which had a huge budget and played the script for its laughs, avoiding the point of the novel.
So what IS the point of the novel? Well, read it and see. We all know a Judith; we all know an Aunt Ada; we all know people who blame their current condition on something in their past, either real or imaginary; we all know many of the human traits and foibles satirised in the novel. What Stella Gibbons did, deliciously, was not just to parody the style of novels by D.H. Lawrence and Mary Webb ("fecund rain spears" and "bursting sheaths") but also to extol the benefits of leading a tidy life full of beauty and harmony. She encapsulates the characteristics of the entire human race into one farmhouse full of superficially dysfunctional people. Read the novel, but, above all: read between the lines.
I was astonished and delighted to discover, quite by chance, that the
BBC's 1971 production of Cold Comfort Farm was available on tape.
Ironic that it should only be available in American format!The
dramatisation of a favourite novel is seldom received with unreserved
pleasure by aficionados, but I well remember my own wholehearted
delight in this particular instance.
Comparisons are odious, of course, but I felt John Schlesinger's more recent film lacked the rawness and anarchy of Peter Hammond's production I found it altogether too picturesque. I also sorely missed Joan Bakewell's narration, which so successfully incorporated, in the earlier version, the wonderful purple passages of Stella Gibbons prose. For me nothing could equal Alastair Sim's extraordinary performance as the tortured Amos, nor surpass Rosalie Crutchley's interpretation of the bereft and despairing Cousin Judith. Definitive too, is the imperturbable normalcy of Sarah Badel's Flora Post, especially in the chaotic and violent scene of Ada Doom's Counting! I originally saw the production in black and white, which I think might have been a plus I found the colour insipid rather than atmospheric but I highly recommend this production to any Cold Comfort Farm enthusiast!
To me, this really is a case where the BBC beat John Schlesinger. The 1971 PBS showing was so good, it did cause me to find the Stella Gibbons and read it. If it was only for the Alistair Sim portrayal of Amos Starkadder, this one would still be worth watching.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
First of all, has anyone else noted that the gifted British actor
Freddie Jones, who plays both Urk and Dr. Mudel in the earlier version,
also plays Adam Lambsbreath in the latter? While I adore Atkins and
McKellan as Judith and Amos, Sim and Crutchley (and especially
Crutchley) are outstanding and definitive as the mad married couple of
I will never get over the crotch-level shot of Seth in the first version during his speech about the spiders. I, too, saw this production on Masterpiece Theatre as a youth, and it has never left me. I made tracks to see the recent film, which I love for many reasons. Still, was there ever a more resplendent rehabilitated Ada Doom than Faye Compton? (Note for trivia buffs: Both Compton and Crutchley appear in the classic film THE HAUNTING.)
I agree that the film version is far superior to the TV version, but when I saw Cold Comfort Farm in 1971 I loved it. Then I discovered the novel, read it, and immediately bought copies for all of my friends. I had to drive almost 100 miles to see the movie, and it was worth it. The movie is better than the old TV version, but the book is much, much better than the movie. I will always be grateful to Masterpiece Theater for introducing me to this treasure.
While there are some strong performances, the crude production values and chaotic direction make this show truly painful to watch. Zooming the lens in and out "real fast" is the sort of thing people did with Super 8 cameras 45 years ago, but it was hardly funny then and is sort of pathetic today. The later film is, by contrast, a real pleasure. Much of the 1968 production calls to mind Monty Python at their worst, which puts to question what it is trying to achieve. We could not make it past the first of the three episodes. There are some solid acting performances (Alistair Sims is terrific, and Sarah Badel does a fine job) -- which is the only reason I have not given this film an "awful" rating. It is, however, awful, and I could not wait for it to be over. What is truly unfortunate is that the later version with Kate Beckinsale is very well done, and this show may discourage viewers from watching it. Skip the '68 show; watch the film.
Stella Gibbons' 'Cold Comfort Farm' is one of the classics of parody,
and this version with Alastair Sim, Rosalie Crutchley, Fay Compton,
Sarah Badel, Brian Blessed, Aubrey Morris and Peter Egan does it
justice. Very 1960s in its outlook it is well played and written and
has just the right hint of madness. Badel in particular as Flora Poste
is note perfect.
Compared with the version with Kate Beckinsale this is much better, and deserves to be seen more widely. Although a VHS did come out in the USA, maybe a DVD beckons from the BBC? It should fit well alongside other classics adapted around the same time, and as it is in colour should find a wide audience.
The only enjoyment in watching this TV version was the nostalgia it brought back for all those wonderful old TV productions of the "why don't they do the kind of dramas they used to do". One forgets just how crude they were at times. I was more interested in the sets, and whether they would remain standing than I was in the action. The production just screams TV studio set. Although Rosalie Crutchley and Brian Blessed gave their usual outstanding performances, it made me appreciate the Kate Beckinsale film all the more.
See the wonderful 1995 movie version instead! I'm a big fan of British comedy and drama, and of the early 1970's Masterpiece Theater series that ran on PBS. However this early TV version is an absolute train-wreck of a production; everything about it is really bad. Those involved seem to have been watching too many Fellini films and seen too many stage productions of Marat/Sade, and thought it would be a fun idea to try incorporating a similar approach here. The result is a bizarre and amusingly unwatchable mess.
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