Thursday, June 21, 2012

DVD Spotlight: Love in a Cold Climate (1980)

Fans of the the 1980 version of Love in a Cold Climate can rejoice that the British miniseries has been finally released on DVD in the U.S. The eight-part series, produced by Thames Television and shown on Masterpiece Theatre, starred Judi Dench and her real-life husband Michael Williams. Simon Raven, who penned teleplays for The Pallisers and Edward & Mrs. Simpson, adapted it from two Nancy Mitford novels.

The first episode, set in 1924 in the English countryside, introduces the Radlett family and its relatives. You'll be tempted to reach for a notebook to jot down all the characters, but resist the urge and focus on Sadie Radlett (Dench) and three teenage girls: Sadie's daughter Linda Radlett (who becomes the principal protagonist); Linda's cousin Fanny (the narrator); and Polly (one of Fanny's distant relatives).

The Hons discuss "it."
The Radlett household proves to be an eccentric one. A popular family game consists of Linda's blustery father, Matthew, hunting the children--fox hunt-style--on their vast estate. Linda and Fanny head the children's "secret society," known as The Hons (short for "honorables"), that meets in the linen cupboard. The family refers to Fanny's absent mother solely as The Bolter--a name bestowed due to her notoriety for leaving husbands.

Lucy Gutteridge as Linda.
With the second episode, the focus shifts to Linda, who has grown into a lovely, but self-centered, young woman. Shallow and dramatic, Linda never lends a hand to help anyone (which has no impact on her enduring friendship with the practical Fanny). Naively believing herself in love, Linda marries a handsome banker despite her father's initial objections. However, by the time their daughter has been born, Linda has become bored with her husband and has no desire to become a mother. She is perfectly content to let her in-laws raise her daughter.

Meanwhile, Fanny weds a low-key university professor and Polly returns with her family from India, where her father served as viceroy. The unnaturally-reserved Polly resists her flighty mother's pressure to get married, although her reasons aren't revealed until after a family member's death.

The unhappy Polly (Rosalyn Landor).
Spanning a period of about 16 years, Love in a Cold Climate is a faithful adaptation of Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love (1945) and Love in a Cold Climate (1949). Interestingly, both books cover roughly the same time period, with The Pursuit of Love centering on Linda and Love in a Cold Climate on Polly. As the narrator, Fanny plays a major role in both, as do supporting characters such as Polly's mother, the outrageous Lady Montdore, and Linda's father Matthew (who proclaims that "foreigners are fiends"). Mitford wrote a third novel, Don't Tell Alfred, in 1960 which focuses on Fanny and her husband Alfred. It takes place later chronologically and those events are not include in the miniseries.

Lifelong friends Fanny (Isabelle
Amyes) and Linda.
There were certainly major obstacles in adapting Mitford's first two books, namely how to make viewers care about the self-absorbed Linda and broad characters like Lady Montdore. However, screenwriter Simon Raven and the cast navigate these waters impressively. Despite her flaws, Linda is likable, as evidenced by her strong friendship with Fanny. Actress Lucy Gutteridge does a fine job of providing subtle shades to Linda as she gradually grows more mature. As for those characters prone to excess dramatics--Lady Montdore, The Bolter (yes, we do meet her!), and the Montdore heir Cedric Hampton--they appear sparingly and typically as comic relief. Raven also "leads" the viewers by using Fanny's narration to foreshadow what is to come. In response to a thoughtful gesture by Linda's eventual husband, Fanny says: "It was the one romantic gesture of Tony Koesig's life."

Michael Williams as Davey.
Although there are several fine performances, the standout one is provided by Michael Williams as Fanny's step-uncle (and father, for practical purposes) Davey Warbeck. A hypochondriac prone to bizarre health "remedies", Davey is nonetheless the Radletts' "go to" person when it comes to resolving family crises. Williams captures Davey's eccentricities, but also his warmth and kindness. A classically-trained actor, Williams worked steadily in British television, but was best known for his stage work during 14 years with the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. He and Judi Dench married in 1971 and remained a couple until his death from cancer in 2001.

That year, the BBC produced its own two-part adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate. It starred Elisabeth Dermot Walsh as Linda, Rosamund Pike as Fanny, and Alan Bates as Matthew.

With its solid cast and smart writings, the 1980 Love in a Cold Climate will appeal not only to the Masterpiece Theatre crowd, but to any fan of first-rate literary drama.

Acorn Media provide the Cafe with a review copy of this DVD boxed set, which will be released on June 26th.


  1. Rick,
    Thanks for bringing this little gem to our attention! I love Dench and all things British but I haven't seen much from the 80's. We all love Downton Abbey, Are You Being Served? (moms favorite) then Fawlty Towers and Doctor Who.

    I used to watch the original UK version of Cash in the Attic every day until it went off the BBC lineup (still angry about that)
    I hope I can get to Love in Cold Climate then get back to you after I've seen it.

    Have a great weekend Classic Film crew!

  2. Yay! I pre-ordered it today. I haven't seen it since college. My roomies and I loved it. It sounds as good as I remember.

  3. Rick, as I write from a hot climate, "Love in a Cold Climate" sounds refreshing. There is a sweetness to this series and the characters are very well developed. Like you I was particularly pleased with Michael Williams fascinating performance as Davey. His character can be very dramatic about his health and treatments but Davey's warmth is so genuine that he shines like a beacon. Fanny is the dearest of friends to all. I am so pleased you profiled this lesser known series. Well done, Rick!