John Schlesinger

Kate Beckinsale as "Robert Post's child" and Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

Kate Beckinsale as "Robert Post's child" and Ian McKellen as Amos Starkadder in Cold Comfort Farm (1995)

  • Born:  1926
  • Died:  2003
  • Rank:  83
  • Score:  522.00
  • Awards:  Oscar / DGA / 2 BAFTAs / NYFC / 2 NBR
  • Nominations:  3 Oscars / 3 DGA / 3 BAFTAs / 3 Golden Globes
  • Feature Films:  18
  • Best:  Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • Worst:  Eye for an Eye

Top 5 Feature Films:

  1. Sunday Bloody Sunday – 1971
  2. Midnight Cowboy – 1969
  3. Cold Comfort Farm – 1995
  4. Darling – 1965
  5. Marathon Man – 1976

Top 10 Director Finishes (Nighthawk Awards):

  • 1965 – 5th – Darling
  • 1969 – 6th – Midnight Cowboy
  • 1971 – 5th – Sunday Bloody Sunday
  • 1976 – 9th – Marathon Man
  • 1996 – 7th – Cold Comfort Farm

John Schlesinger was treated well in his time but history has not been as kind.  Unlike the next director, Schlesinger scored very well on the awards, but got almost no points from the Top 1000 list.  He won Best Picture and Director in 1969, got nominations in 65 and 71, was still important through the 70’s, but made so many mis-steps in the 80’s and 90’s that when he made his last great feature film, it was all but ignored.  He followed that up with the two worst films he ever made and then he died in 2003, remembered only because headlines said “Oscar winning director dies.”

But Schlesinger was an important part of British cinema in the 60’s, making not only Darling, but also Billy Liar, A Kind of Loving and Far from the Madding Crowd, before coming to the states and making such thoughtful films as Day of the Locust and Falcon and the Snowman.  It is true that his films after Falcon rarely rose above mediocrity, but his last great film is truly a great treasure.

Cold Comfort Farm – #6 film of 1996

Technically, Cold Comfort Farm came out in 1995, but it was released in theaters and would have been Oscar eligible had it not played on television in Britain.  It got good reviews but not much notice.  But I think it’s a matter of timing.  Yes, it was riding the wave of Jane Austen films (though it is not Austen and set in the early 30’s rather than the 19th century, but it was a British costume comedy of manners), but how much more would it get noticed today now that Ian McKellen is known the world over and not just as the guy from the interesting Richard III and that Kate Beckinsale is thought of as one of the world’s most beautiful women and not just the actress who was okay in Much Ado About Nothing.

Cold Comfort Farm is really a wonderful film.   Kate Beckinsale really proved she could act as the city girl who comes out to find her cousins in the country and perhaps discover herself as a writer (she really hasn’t proved again since that she could act, but she’s proven she is really beautiful in black leather and that’s kept her career going strong).  The collection of weirdo cousins include the crazed matriarch (“I saw something nasty in the woodshed”), the earthy Seth (played by Rufus Sewell long before anyone knew who he really was) and the rather odd preacher and father, played by Ian McKellen in such a fantastic and odd performance that when Bryan Singer told McKellen two years later while making Apt Pupil that McKellen should watch that performance to get some ideas, he didn’t realize he was talking to the same person.

Of course, it’s comedy tonight, so like the song, it has a happy ending of course as Hollywood enters the picture (in an amusing aside that perhaps would presage the Bob Balaban character in Gosford Park), but the true happiness is that Schlesinger made one more great picture amidst his downfall, even if it was mostly ignored on impact.