This year’s take on one of Thomas Hardy‘s most famous works, Far from the Madding Crowd, has been doing very nicely at the box office over the last few weeks, receiving plaudits on both sides of the Atlantic. However, we’re here to cast an eye over its illustrious 1967 predecessor, which is justly considered by many to be almost as classic as the novel itself.
It tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie), a spirited young woman who unexpectedly inherits a large farm in Dorset. As she tries to get to grips with the everyday struggles of agricultural life, she steals the hearts of three men: sheep farmer Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), landowner William Boldwood (Peter Finch) and swordsman Frank Troy (Terence Stamp). All three are as different as the fates that ultimately befall them in their pursuit of Bathsheba’s hand in marriage, which means that trouble and tragedy are forever lurking around the corner, despite the film’s often cheerful overtones.
As you would expect from such a strong cast, the acting is nothing short of first class (except perhaps for one or two dodgy Dorset accents, but we’ll let them off). The chemistry between Christie and Stamp is a particular highlight, whilst all four of the main protagonists are played with a depth and intensity that allows the film to move seamlessly from one mood to another.
Likewise, the direction from John Schlesinger is of the highest calibre. The essence of the title is captured perfectly by interspersing the idyllic country setting with quick bursts of scenes from bustling markets. As directors such as David Lean have managed to translate the harsh realities of Charles Dickens‘ inner-city London to the screen so successfully over the years, so Schlesinger effortlessly portrays the snapshot of rural 19th-century England that made Hardy’s tale such a hit. It is nowhere near as unflinching as some of the Dickens-inspired pictures – nor should it be – but we are still left with a real sense of how trying life could be back then.
Two of the most notable nominations that the film received were for the Academy Award for Best Original Music Score and the BAFTA for Best British Cinematography. There’s many a melody to enjoy, from a brass band to full-blown orchestra, plus foot-tapping folk fare that reminds us that England used to be able to rival anything that Scotland and Ireland could offer. But as great as all of this is, the king of them all is Richard Rodney Bennett‘s hauntingly beautiful theme. As for the cinematography, this is the real star of the show. The ever-present West Country backdrop may seem a simple ingredient, but it is so evocative that you can understand why Hardy was inspired back in 1874.
Perhaps rather surprisingly, Far from the Madding Crowd fared quite badly across the pond (unlike the present-day version, as previously mentioned), even with the praises of notoriously hard-to-please U.S. critic Roger Ebert, who went so far as to label the film ‘splendid’. In this era of Downton Abbey, however, it would doubtless be lapped up stateside if it were premiered today, as the success of the 2015 adaptation has all but proven.
Luckily for those who’ve yet to sample the delights of this cinematic masterpiece, a newly restored version will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and EST on June 1 – well, you didn’t think this was a review purely for the sake of nostalgia, did you?! It premiered at the 2014 London Film Festival and was funded by StudioCanal in collaboration with the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage Programme. It also comes complete with a brand-new set of extras, including exclusive interviews and featurettes.
If you haven’t already, it’s time to witness British period drama at its very best.
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