Over the weekend I watched Far from the Madding Crowd in two instalments. When I first saw the film I’d never even visited Dorset, let alone had any idea that one day I would live here. It was longer and slower than I remembered but still very good. There’s beautiful scenery (it was shot in Wiltshire and Dorset), a lovely pastoral score by Richard Rodney Bennett and clever use of folk songs throughout to highlight the story. There’s a strong feeling of the isolation of rural communities (Bathsheba’s aunt’s house in the middle of nowhere), the rhythm of the seasons and celebrations of the high points of the farming year. No Lark Rise-style rose-tinted spectacles here but plenty of mud, rain, fog and a reminder that loss of stock or a rick fire could mean ruin.
What struck me was how closely it follows the book yet is very obviously a sixties film. Julie Christie’s hair and make-up mark her out immediately as a sixties’ beauty rather than a nineteenth century one. The shots, too, all those long views of the rolling landscape and especially the ones with figures outlined against the sky (the view of Terence Stamp at the top of a hill is particularly good) seem very sixties features, which you can see in Whistle Down the Wind, for instance. Julie Christie is not really convincing as the tough woman Bathsheba must have been to be ‘Queen of the Corn Market’ but it’s easy to see how Terence Stamp (cor!) got mastery of her and to believe in Peter Finch as her obsessive and half-crazed would-be lover. I found Alan Bates less good as Gabriel Oak than I remembered but I think the fault there lies with Hardy. When I read the book as a teenager Gabriel had all my sympathy; it’s only now that his devotion stretches my credulity.
I really enjoyed this re-visit and now want to read the book again.