Sunday, 4 October 2020

Movie Review: Far From The Madding Crowd (1967)

An adaptation of the classic Thomas Hardy romance, Far From The Madding Crowd is visually pleasing but overlong and overinvested in folk culture.

Rural England in the 1860s. Spirited farmgirl Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) rejects a marriage proposal from her neighbour, humble shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates). Instead she moves to the larger farm of her uncle, who soon dies and leaves her in charge. Gabriel loses his flock and his forced to seek employment, and is eventually hired by Bathsheba. He continues to love her from afar.

Meanwhile, rich landowner William Boldwood (Peter Finch) is infatuated with Bathsheba and proposes repeatedly, but she cannot commit to him. Instead she falls in love with soldier Frank Troy (Terence Stamp), a scoundrel who jilted his true love Fanny (Prunella Ransome) because she was late to their wedding ceremony. Bathsheba and Troy get married, but he soon reveals his true colours.

Hardy's novel is a celebration of rural farming culture, and director John Schlesinger, working from Frederic Raphael's script, is respectful of the story's cultural grounding. The film is immersed in the mud and soil of farm grounds and the people who toil the land. The secondary characters stay in the background but add salt-of-the-earth colours, and the sights and (almost) smells of hay, corn, markets, sheep, chickens, geese and pigs pleasantly emanate from the screen.

Unfortunately, the salute to rural England extends to plenty of scenes featuring folk songs and harvest hymns being belted out, and Far From The Madding Crowd starts to strain and sag as characters with bad teeth and bad breath warble away under the influence of bad alcohol. The film extends to a numbing 169 minutes, and rarely does Schlesinger build any momentum, the chapters coming and going with natural beauty but little emotional resonance. As a further example of indisciplined editing and the pursuit of padding, a circus skit is included in its entirety.

The source material's narrative weaknesses further contribute to the fatigue. Bathsheba possess the courage to run a farm and order rough men around, but she is unfortunately inept in her assessment and treatment of suitors. She melts in front of Troy's uniform and juvenile sword play, disregarding the stench of his reputation and obvious social climbing agenda. She strings along the long-suffering Boldwood with a series of non-answers, and worst of all, she routinely mistreats Gabriel, oblivious to their natural compatibility.

In the central role Julie Christie is adequate but errs on the side of 1960s good-natured chic rather than authentic 1860s caked-on toil. Alan Bates, Peter Finch and Terence Stamp stick to single notes as the three men in her life, Stamp registering the best impression by emphasizing Troy's smarminess.

Far From The Madding Crowd is a slow walk in the beautiful countryside, with plenty of potholes on the muddy trail.



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