Love in a Cold Climate (2001)

“Whoever invented love ought to be shot.”

Love in a Cold Climate begins in the 1930s and follows the lives and loves of three privileged young English girls. Polly (Megan Dodds) is the only daughter and sole heir of the fabulously wealthy Lord and Lady Montdore. Although the 21-year-old Polly is considered a society beauty, her sour unpleasant mother thinks Polly is well on her way to becoming an old maid. Lady Montdore’s goal in life is to marry her daughter off, and to make Polly’s life as miserable as possible until the nuptials take place.

Linda (Elisabeth Dermot-Walsh) is raised on her eccentric family’s country estate. She rebels by marrying the stodgy son of a banker, and her father reacts with strong disapproval to her marriage to a ‘Hun’. Disapproval morphs into embarrassment when she runs off with a young communist.

Linda’s cousin Fanny (Rosamund Pike) is the daughter of the infamous “Bolter.” Linda is watched with interest by society for signs of inherited instability. “The Bolter” is named for the manner in which she dumps one man and runs off with another. Ironically, Fanny is the most stable and naive of the three girls. While at first the girls are seen as impossibly privileged, superficial and rather silly, their life experiences make them more human.

In one of the film’s best roles, Alan Bates plays Linda’s blustery father–ruling his home with homage to tradition and a trace of superstition. His predictable ethnocentricity is both endearing and embarrassing, and he seems in his element when he contemplates fighting off the Germans during WWII.

Sheila Gish delivers an exquisitely nasty performance as the domineering, unpleasant Lady Montdore–a condescending woman who takes advantage of her wealth and position and uses it to lecture every unfortunate person in her circle. She’s deliciously awful–dreaded by her peers who deliver snide comments whenever she’s out of earshot. Lady Montdore’s nephew Cedric is a flamboyant young man from Nova Scotia whose veneer of fawning flattery hides a delightfully benign character. Cedric finally tempers Lady Montdore’s acid tongue and revolting personality, and under his tutelage Lady Montdore is defanged and transformed into a sort of society drag queen.

Based on the book written by Nancy Mitford, the story stands as a testament to the erosive change in the upper classes. The film cleverly delineates between the types of upper classes–those born with money who manage their estates, hunt and do not seek employment, and the ‘new rich’ banking family–those who seek investments and business opportunities. Some very funny scenes occur when Linda becomes engaged and the two sets of parents square off over dinner, revealing a horrible clash of values as they politely sip soup. The scenes depicting Linda’s conversion to communism are priceless, and at one point she even lectures about the plight of the workers while wearing her fur coat. Most of the film’s wonderful humour is found in sharp mordant wit and the seemingly polite, gracious comments that mask snobbery, dislike, and general nastiness. This marvelous period drama will delight fans of British television. Directed by Tom Hooper.

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