The stories center around the Radlett family, whose lord and master called “Fa”, by his six children, or “Uncle Matthew”, by his niece
More than a house, Alconleigh is a grand, old estate of the English countryside, which Matthew lords over with a whip. He can be found pacing the great drive and courtyard at Alconleigh, snapping this whip with the violence of a homicidal polo player and the grace of a fly-fisherman, marching in his high boots. The children play ball nearby, inured to their father’s mania. Uncle Matthew is possibly Mitford’s strongest character. His dialog makes this so, as he bellows angry epithets that echo through the halls. He is particularly fond of calling people “hogs”, “sewers” and “hons”.
Despite her obvious doe-eyed fright of the bristling Matthew, Fanny seems to love her uncle. An extremely blustery character, Uncle Matthew will not stand for frivolity, even at a seasonal ball given at his own estate. He is caught “gazing furiously into space” every time someone he despises dances by.
Fanny receives an invitation to visit the Montdores at Hampton, their country house upon the family's return from India. Fanny is torn between her affection for Polly and her anxiety about the complex social issues involved in such a visit. Her reunion with Polly is successful in that the two young women rekindle their childhood affection and establish a mature friendship. Fanny, the readers' informant, has great affection for Polly, but is aware of Polly's reticence in revealing her personal feelings. Unlike Fanny's Radlett cousins who "told everything", Polly reveals little of herself. Slightly older than Fanny, Polly has "come out" in India and as such a beautiful and socially important debutante, is expected to have a very successful season in London. The standing of the Montdore family is such that the beautiful Polly is expected to have her pick of all the eligible bachelors in the country
In Love in a Cold Climate, Fanny narrates the story of Polly, to whom Fanny is distantly related through her father's family. Lady Leopoldina [Polly] Hampton, is the only child of the supremely aristocratic and very rich Earl of Montdore and his wife, Sonia.
Lady Montdore is a product of the minor ranks of the aristocracy and her marriage to an earl is regarded as a social coup on her part. She is depicted by Fanny, as an avaricious, greedy snob, but not without charm. Her thrusting personality, allied to her husband's impeccable social standing, riches and political influence makes her a formidable woman. Lady Montdore, unbeknown to Lord Montdore, takes advantage of her husband's reputation to forward her own career as a hostess and manipulator of her social circle. After 20 years of marriage and no children, "Sonia felt less than well." The result is Polly. So beautiful and so perfect, the narrator, Fanny, adores Polly, as do her parents. Fanny loses contact with Polly, when Lord Montdore is sent as Viceroy of India.
Boy is snobbish, spending his time writing books about the aristocracy, and sexually rapacious; his many affairs are common knowledge to both his wife and society at large. Fanny and her Radlett cousins have long suspected that the sexually ambiguous Boy, whom they have named the "Lecherous Lecturer," has pedophile tendencies and he is a joke amongst Fanny's cousins for his inappropriate touches and furtive, "lecherous" behaviour towards young girls
However, Polly consistently demonstrates a total lack of interest in the London season and all of the men she meets. She tells Fanny that when she "came out " in India, she found the whole thing very boring. Love affairs, so common in India, do not interest Polly, but she is hoping that "in a cold climate", society will be less interested in love affairs.
Uncle Matthew is possibly Mitford’s strongest character
It is also known in these circles that Boy has been Lady Montdore's lover for many years, unbeknown to Polly
Lady Montdore, hoping that Polly will make an important marriage, is exasperated by her daughter's apparent indifference to love and marriage. "Important" potential suitors acknowledge that Polly is very beautiful, but find her cold and aloof
The self contained Polly reveals to no one that she has been in love with her uncle, "Boy" Dougdale [the husband of her paternal aunt, Lady Patricia] since she was 14. Boy is snobbish, spending his time writing books about the aristocracy, and sexually rapacious; his many affairs are common knowledge to both his wife and society at large. Fanny and her Radlett cousins have long suspected that the sexually ambiguous Boy, whom they have named the "Lecherous Lecturer," has pedophile tendencies and he is a joke amongst Fanny's cousins for his inappropriate touches and furtive, "lecherous" behaviour towards young girls. Polly marries her widowed uncle, shortly after her aunt's death, causing a scandal in her social circle and distressing her parents deeply. It is also known in these circles that Boy has been Lady Montdore's lover for many years, unbeknown to Polly. Polly is excluded from her father's will upon her marriage and she and Boy ostracised from society. They move to Sicily and away from Fanny for several years.
The self contained Polly reveals to no one that she has been in love with her uncle, "Boy" Dougdale [the husband of her paternal aunt, Lady Patricia] since she was 14.
Polly's place in the family is filled by the heir to Lord Montdore's entailed fortune and title, Cedric Hampton. Born in Nova Scotia to a minor member of the Montdore family, Cedric has cast off his colonial origins and has used his exceptional good looks and personal charm to establish a place within the homosexual milieu of the European aristocracy. Cedric has lived a life of luxury as the lover of rich and aristocratic men. Currently out of favour in that quarter, Cedric accepts an invitation to visit the Montdores.
His natural love of beauty, innate good taste and his careful use of flattery, enable Cedric to win the affections of Lord and Lady Montdore and many others. Cedric focuses his attentions upon Lady Montdore in particular and encourages her to update her wardrobe and general appearance and revive her interest in social matters, which has diminished since the "loss" of her lover and her daughter. Lady Montdore uses Cedric's popularity and charm to reestablish herself as a leading society hostess, to Cedric's advantage.
Fanny, as a regular visitor to the Montdores, shares with her readers all of the activities of the Montdore household and Cedric soon becomes one of her close friends. Polly, heavily pregnant, returns from Sicily with Boy. The marriage has turned sour and Fanny notes that neither Polly nor Boy is in love any more. Polly is regularly visited by the elderly Duke of Paddington [a fictional title] while pregnant, who lavishes her with luxurious flowers and attention. Polly reconciles with her mother after bearing a child who dies shortly after its birth. Cedric and Boy meet and fall in love. "Cedric arranged the whole thing perfectly", according to Fanny. While Polly recovers from the difficult birth, Cedric whisks Boy and Lady Montdore to France, leaving Polly free to be carried off by the elderly Duke. While this outcome shocks the conservative social circles in which they mix, Fanny takes a broader minded view, pleased to see people she loves each finding happiness in their own way.
Love in a Cold Climate is a British television serial drama produced by the BBC in association with WGBH Boston, and first broadcast in two parts on BBC One on 4 and 11 February 2001. The serial was adapted by Deborah Moggach from Nancy Mitford's novels The Pursuit of Love and Love in a Cold Climate, and was directed by Tom Hooper.
It stars Rosamund Pike as Fanny, Elisabeth Dermot Walsh as Linda, Megan Dodds as Polly, Alan Bates as Uncle Matthew, and Celia Imrie as Aunt Sadie. Further roles are played by an all-star cast. The production staff researched the nature of Mitford's novels by interviewing her surviving sister Deborah. The serial was accompanied by an Omnibus profile of Mitford and a documentary series entitled The Mitford World on BBC Knowledge.
Love in a Cold Climate was nominated for two British Academy Television Awards; Bates was nominated for Best Actor, and the production team received nominations in the Costume Design and Production Design categories.
A previous mini-series adaptation of Love in a Cold Climate was broadcast in 1980, starring Judi Dench, Michael Aldridge and Vivian Pickles.