Far from the Madding Crowd R/I (1967)
Reissue of John Schlesinger's enchanting interpretation of Thomas Hardy's novel
Rightly or wrongly, the expression 'period drama' has become synonymous with spiritedly performed but staidly directed TV adaptations and unadventurous films. John Schlesinger's 1967 interpretation of Thomas Hardy's Far from the Madding Crowd could never be accused of lacking visual imagination, standing nobly apart from such fare. Its tortured romance emerges from a backdrop of rural toil and relentless gossip, with its shrewd yet ethereal heroine flanked by work-worn faces and simple minds.
It's the story of the beautiful and wilful Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) and the three very different men who love her: rugged and indispensable farmer Gabriel Oak (a tangerine-coloured Alan Bates); desperately devoted landowner William Boldwood (Peter Finch); and flamboyant cad Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp). After she inherits a farm in Dorset, Bathsheba fearlessly takes charge of the operation, batting back the attention of Oak and Boldwood before falling hard for unstable womaniser and gambler Troy.
The casting couldn't be bettered but Far from the Madding Crowd is most notable for Nicolas Roeg's hallucinatory cinematography, which marries the film to his later work as a director.
Roeg (who oversaw this exquisite digital restoration) captures the bewitching quality of both Christie and the natural surroundings, the eccentricity of the locals, the crude, painted thrills of the circus, and symbolism of a cock-fight; he gives us POV shots which put us in the shoes of a disloyal husband and an inebriated wagon driver, and illuminates Boldwood's dangerously obsessive state of mind when Bathsheba appears to him crystal clear through the irrelevant fog of others. Best of all, is the way Roeg and Schlesinger quickly follow the breathtaking romance of the beekeeping sequence – where Bathsheba and Troy are unforgettably framed by flowers as he declares his love – with a contrastingly seductive scene in which Troy brazenly displays his dark side, as he recklessly demonstrates his skill as a swordsman.
Far from the Madding Crowd remains a perfect example of a film that captures the spirit of the source-material, whilst boldly exploiting and exploring the potential of the cinematic medium.
Selected reissue from Fri 13 Mar.