Firstly, I should admit that I'm not too enamoured with Thomas Hardy. This is down to two things; one, the seemingly endless description of a hill in one of his novels bored my younger self to tears and two, I had an ex who was mad about him, so anything Hardy related inevitably brings back memories. However, it's films like this (Polanski's Tess being another) that give me some slight pause to reconsider my stance.
Though performing pretty well at the UK box office, Far From The Madding Crowd was somewhat slated on release with criticisms along the lines of how unconvincing the Carnaby Street leads were in rural Hardy country. Indeed, the US poster bill above goes all out to ensure the potential audience are aware that the film stars Swinging London's finest by citing Georgy Girl (Alan Bates) and Doctor Zhivago (Julie Christie) in the tagline. Any validity in such petty arguments have however fallen away over the years and we can now appreciate a crop of actors performing classic material at their peak.
It's a shame he was alleged to have little time or patience with his star Terence Stamp who, if we are to believe Stamp's account, he left to flounder and told him not to perform in the Somerset accent he had trained. It's a shame as it may have helped stave off those Carnaby Street criticisms that were to follow if he'd let Stamp have his way. However, Stamp performs brilliantly as the roguish Troy, never more so than in the subtext heavy scene in which he demonstrates his...ah..swordmanship (no, really) to Christie; a scene beautifully shot by Nic Roeg.
Several scenes have long lingered in my memory (including the one above) but especially the tragedy of Bates' wayward dog allowing the sheep to come loose from the pen, herding them off the cliff to their deaths, followed by the inevitable punishment for the dog. Horrible, hard and poignant.
Far From The Madding Crowd is the kind of film you want to watch at Christmas; an adaptation of a classic novel, slightly overlong for the grey and cold afternoon, beautiful locations, beautiful cast and beautifully shot. It also has a brilliant score from Sir Richard Rodney Bennett who, as previously reported, we sadly lost this Christmas. RIP.
Incidentally for those who didn't know, the 2010 comedy drama Tamara Drewe starring the gorgeous Gemma Arterton is based on a graphic novel by Posy Simmonds that was itself seen as a satire on Far From The Madding Crowd