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UK 1967
Directed by
John Schlesinger
168 minutes
Rated PG

Reviewed by
Bernard Hemingway
4 stars

Far From The Madding Crowd (1967)

Nostalgic literary adaptations were all the rage in mid-to late 1960s British film, a tendency which had a significant  effect on the Australian film renaissance of the early 70s. John Schlesinger’s transposition of Thomas Hardy’s "Far from the Madding Crowd" was a top drawer example of the tendency and it remains an impressive film. Bar a couple of niggling editing issues about the only thing one could really hold against the film is its runtime, added to by a rather anachronistic Leanish overture, intermission and entr’acte. Even so it is surprising that it did not do well at the box-office.

Julie Christie plays Bathsheba Everdene, a  beautiful, headstrong young woman who is loved by three different men: Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates) who wants her as a famer’s wife, Mr Boldwood  (Peter Finch) who wants her as a gentlewoman  and Sargeant Troy (Terence Stamp) who just wants her. And of course wouldn't you know it, she falls for Troy and tragedy ensues.

Although Christie exemplified the look of the times, notably in Schlesinger’s 1965 hit Darling, to her credit she never let herself be used as a decorative commodity and she gives a strong performance here as Hardy’s independent but haughty heroine undone. Stamp was also a 60s pin-up and he gets top billing with Christie although the always-excellent Alan Bates is really the principal male character, the only one who shares Bathsheba’s entire journey (they would appear together in Joseph Losey’s adaptation of  L. P. Hartley’s The Go-Between in 1971). Peter Finch rounds out the quartet of leads as the possessive older suitor.

The film’s rather expedient ending, also a feature of Hardy’s novel, which ties up the story leaving her husband dead and poor Mr Boldwood to pay a price that really should have been Bathsheba’s due is a tad too glib to satisfy.  Nevertheless, with a fastidious production design that brings Hardy’s early 19th century rural Wessex to life, helped out by a fine cast of support actors; Nicolas Roeg's painterly cinematography; Frederic Raphael's faithful screenplay;  a tasteful score by Richard Rodney Bennett; and Schlesinger’s fine direction Far From The Madding Crowd is one of the very best adaptations of a much-adapted author. 




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