|Julie Christie as Bathsheba Everdine|
|Alan Bates as Gabriel Oak|
|Terence Stamp as Sergeant Frank Troy|
|Peter Finch as William Boldwood|
|Far from the Madding Crowd is an outsized film of subtle emotions that would have greatly benefited from the kind of intimate style employed by Ken Russell for Women in Love.|
While I tend to think MGM was thinking with their pocketbooks more than their heads (Hollywood at the time was literally throwing open its doors to any and everyone who displayed the slightest trace of knowing what young audiences were looking for) I have to also admit that in many ways, Thomas Hardy’s take on Wessex countryside life in 1874 and Schlesinger’s view of 60s London are a better fit than first glance would reveal.
Bathsheba finds herself the focus of the amorous attentions of three men
A landowner, a businesswoman, and an independent spirit
I’m not one to demand that a film adaptation of a book hew slavishly to the written word. Of course, I love it when a film made from a favorite novel is translated to the screen in terms compliant to the way I envisioned it (Goodbye, Columbus), but I’m just as happy if a filmmaker deviates from the text if they are able unearth something new, something wholly cinematic that captures the book’s essence, if not its exact plot (Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining). I only got around to reading Far From the Madding Crowd last year, some 34 years after I saw the film version, and beyond the then-controversial casting the of the blond Christie in the role of the fiery brunette Bathsheba, I found Schlesinger’s film to be surprisingly faithful to the book and both equally pleasing.
Perhaps too faithful, as the
self-deprecating director indicated to biographer William J. Mann in the book, The Edge of Midnight: The Life of John
Schlesinger. In addressing claims that the film far too long and atypically
slow in pacing, Schlesinger states: “We didn't take enough liberty with the
film because we were too worried about taking liberties with a classic.” There is indeed a kind of reverence to text in Schlesinger’s film
that makes Far From the Madding Crowd the kind of film perfect for high-school literature classes, but for me, the movie is more atmospherically leisurely than slow. I love the time Schlesinger gives over to giving us colorful views of
country farm life, and the romantic quadrangle at the center of the film
(pentagonal if one includes the tragic Fanny Robin, the farm girl with just
about as much luck as the traditional heroine of Victorian literature) is
engagingly and dramatically evoked.
I fell in fell in love with Far From the Madding Crowd chiefly because of Julie Christie
(surprise!) but mostly because it was refreshing to see an epic film with a
strong woman at its center. A woman whose actions not only propelled the events
of the story, but hose destiny was shaped by what she does or does not want,
not merely by the vagaries of fate that befall her.
|A highlight of both the book and the film is the "swordplay" seduction scene|
|Prunella Ransome portrays Fanny Robin, a young servant girl in love with the dashing Sergeant Troy (Stamp). Were this a epic musical taking place in 19-century France, hers would be the Anne Hathaway role.|
|As far as I'm concerned, the film has a tough time recovering from a huge loss of credibility when Julie Christie rebuffs the matrimonial advances of that absolutely gorgeous slab of hirsute hunk, Alan Bates. Seriously, what was she thinking?|
I’m afraid if I log one more post in which I wax rhapsodic on the wonders of Julie Christie, my partner is going in search of professional help (for me or himself), so I’ll make this brief. In Bathsheba Everdine, Christie is cast as yet another shallow petulant—a character of the sort she virtually trademarked in the 60s with her roles in Darling, Fahrenheit 451 (Montag’s wife, anyway), and Petulia. Christie’s artistry and gift in being able to convey the emotional depth behind the superficial has been, I think, the obvious intelligence that has always been an inseverable part of her beauty and appeal. It takes a lot of brains to play thoughtless.
As good as Christie is (and for me, her star quality alone galvanizes
this monolithic movie) the top acting honors go to Peter Finch who gives the
screen one of the most searing portraits of tortured obsession since James
Mason in Lolita. One of my favorite
scenes is a silent one where the camera is trained on Finch’s face as Christie’s
character rides by in a wagon. In his eyes alone you can see a wellspring of
hope rise and fall in a matter of seconds. It really takes something to upstage
Julie Christie, and she is very good here, but Peter Finch really won me over by giving the films most moving and complex performance.
|Scenes depicting English country life are beautifully rendered|
THE STUFF OF FANTASY:
The production values of Far From the Madding Crowd are absolutely first rate. The time and place is richly evoked in lavish costumes, painstaking period detail, and vivid depictions of rural life. Still, while the large-format Panavision does well when it comes to dramatically demonstrating the tempestuous forces of nature that underscore the impassioned carryings-on of Hardy’s characters, the sheer size of Far From the Madding Crowd keeps me at an emotional remove. Nicolas Roeg’s ofttimes startlingly beautiful camerawork strives rather valiantly to imbue the picture-postcard compositions with as much humanity and sensitivity as possible. The story is so engaging and the performances so good that one longs to be brought closer, but too often the film leaves us feeling as if we are looking at these lives through the wide-lens end of a pair of binoculars.
THE STUFF OF DREAMS:
|Cinematographer, later-turned-director Nicolas Roeg was the unofficial caretaker of the Julie Christie "look" early in her career. He also photographed her to breathtaking effect for Fahrenheit 451, Petulia, and in 1973 he directed her in Don't Look Now|
Far From the Madding Crowd did not do too well at the boxoffice in 1968. A fact likely attributable, at least in part, to the film being promoted as a romance when in actuality the real love story begins about 60 seconds before the 168-minute movie ends. To its detriment in hoping to be the next epic romance in the Doctor Zhivago vein, Far From the Madding Crowd is chiefly a drama about people who are either in love with the right people at the wrong time or the wrong people at the right time.
|The Valentine that sets the tragic drama in motion|
Check out the blog Random Ramblings, Thoughts and Fiction for another review of Far From the Madding Crowd (lots of great pics!).
Copyright © Ken Anderson