Friday, 28 December 2012

Far From The Madding Crowd

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.

I have still have one problem with Hardy it's that Bathsheba, played by  Christie, is a somewhat irritating 'heroine' concerned only with her own desires and utterly oblivious, immune or even heartless to what she does (such as play with the emotions of the aloof Boldwood played with a repressed majesty by Peter Finch) and the selfless actions of Oak (played by the great Alan Bates) when trying to aid her. There's a line of dialogue from Troy (Terence Stamp) that states she is a woman of such beauty that she doesn't know what effect she has on others, and that goes in some way as to explaining this particularly disagreeable trait. Thankfully, in casting Julie Christie, John Schlesinger manages in some way to get the audience on her side regardless.
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


  1. Hi Mark
    I absolutely love this movie and loved your piece on it. I actually came upon this post back when I read your Victor/Victoria review, but forced myself not to read it until today, after i finished my own. I like your personal recollections (especially about the sheep herding scene) and love the photos. Indeed, that poster cracks me tries so hard to be torrid and the film is so restrained. Also, that running illustration of Julie Christie looks like they used Julie Andrew's frame from the old "The Sound of Music" poster! Guess the needed to get some leg in when promoting a 19th century romance. Anyway, I enjoyed your post a great deal!

    1. Haha yes you're so right re that poster!
      Clearly great minds think alike, and your spidey senses are once again in full working order when it comes to any Julie Christie posts ;)

  2. I know I'm really late commenting on this but just ran across it and enjoyed your take on it. Love this film. It took a couple of views to really fall for it, the first time it was beautiful to look at but seemed too languidly paced once I gave it another chance aware of its rhythms though I was crazy for it. As I said the look of the film is beautiful but so are the three leads, Alan Bates even manages to rock that awful beard with no moustache fashion that defeats all but the best looking men.

    That American poster for the film is just too much!! The only scene that even comes close to any in the film is the Peter Finch one but does he ever kiss her hand? So much for truth in advertising! I've read a little Hardy but not this particular book, which my nephew described as the worst book he's ever read-obviously not an inducement to seek it out.

    I haven't seen the new Carey Mulligan version, which looks beautiful but is a full hour shorter-worrisome, but I just happened to watch Tamara Drewe the other day, dreadful movie! I only saw the most tenuous connections to Madding Crowd. It was just a hodgepodge of ideas not very skillfully put together, I expected better from Stephen Frears.

    1. Never to late to comment on a post! Thanks for stopping by