This was, as far as I am aware, the first film adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd. It was directed by John Schlesinger and is the favourite version of many due to its deeply atmospheric feel. The role of Bathsheba is played by Julie Christie. I was not sure about her at first; she has a real ‘60s vibe and look about her even when dressed in her Victorian costumes which messed with my sense of immersion somewhat. However, she grew on me and Christie plays an endearing Bathsheba who likes to think she knows best yet spends the entire film openly questioning the decisions she has made. Alan Bates plays a suitably protective Gabriel Oak, though this is not the version in which I feel we see the best or depth of his character. Terence Stamp plays Sergeant Troy, and again, I did not find him particularly believable in this role at first but the chemistry between him and Christie later convinced me otherwise. Interestingly, the two actors had a romance off screen too, which is referred to in the Kinks’ ‘Waterloo Sunset’.
One of the best things about this film is the music. It includes the English folksongs, ‘One Morning in May’, and ‘Bushes and Briars’, both of which compliment the story hauntingly, and the soundtrack in general has a very rustic yet brooding feel to it that suits the fatalistic nature of the story. The main characters are accompanied in true Hardy style by a host of interesting and tangible side-line characters, acted superbly by actors such as Brian Rawlinson and Fiona Walker, who watch as the protagonists make their decisions and their errors.
The next version of Far from the Madding Crowd was made in 1998 and starred Paloma Baeza and Nathaniel Parker. It was a television mini-series, shown on ITV, and was the first version that I saw. Due to its length and the time that it devotes to the narrative and character development, this is my favourite version. Baeza’s Bathsheba matures throughout the film, as she does in the book and there is not such a feeling that she has simply settled for Gabriel, as there is in the 1967 version, but rather that she has come to realise her true feelings and to notice the merit of the man who has stood by her throughout the years. The scene in which Gabriel proposes is particularly touching and is accompanied by the lovely pastoral music that introduces and runs throughout the narrative. One of the things I like most about this version is, as mentioned before, the attention to characterisation. Nigel Terry and Jonathan Firth give brilliant, emotional performances as Boldwood and Troy and present us with fully rounded characters whom we can dislike, pity and also empathise with. Unlike in the 1967 version, the story of Fanny Robin is followed as a side-line plot to the main story and we see something of how she ends up at Casterbridge Workhouse towards the end.
Natasha Little plays a slightly more mature and passionate Fanny, so it is easier to understand what Troy feels for her and how once he wanted to marry her. This version feels a little more polished than the earlier ‘60s version, which some may feel does not reflect the feel of Hardy’s novel, but if it is the characters that one is interested in, then this is the version I would recommend.
The most recent version of Far from the Madding Crowd was released in 2015 and starred Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts. This is a very pleasing film to look at, with beautiful cinematography and another compelling soundtrack. However, it is the one I have the least to say about, firstly because I have only seen it once, and secondly because it did not leave a very lasting impression on me. One thing that did intrigue me was the decision to cast Schoenaerts as a rather dishy Gabriel Oak. The merits of Oak’s character in the novel and in the two older adaptations have always been his loyalty, his patience, his perceptiveness and his protectiveness. I therefore thought it would be interesting to see how an Oak who was also notably attractive would work alongside the contrary and impressionable Bathsheba. The result provided an intriguing contrast to the youthful, delicate features of Tom Sturridge’s Sergeant Troy, suggesting Bathsheba’s transition from girlhood to womanhood in her preference in the end for a ‘real man’.
One thing which disappointed me about this version was one of the key scenes in which Troy returns to re-claim Bathsheba at Boldwood’s party. In the novel and in the earlier versions, shortly prior to this, Bathsheba has finally agreed to marry Boldwood at the end of six years. It is therefore a little more fathomable when, at the unlikely reappearance of Troy, Boldwood at last loses his mind and shoots him dead. The problem is that in this film, that particular conversation is not included and so events seem to escalate from zero to one hundred with no clear reason. The motivation for Boldwood shooting Troy alluded my partner who accompanied me to see this film and I wondered if it might also do the same for most people unfamiliar with the original story.
This film delivers a version of Far from the Madding Crowd which gives the viewer some lovely scenery, some good looking actors and the gist of the story. It is worth a watch if you are looking for something romantic, and with a bit of an edge.