Thomas Hardy’s tale of pastoral passions in the heart of South-west England, adapted carefully but beautifully by director John Schlesinger, Far from the Madding Crowd (1967) stands the tests of time. Does it still manage to captivate? Does it draw on its thematic through-lines and manage to feel relevant to current audiences? Do the performances still feel fresh, revelatory? All answers ring out with a resounding ‘yes’. The headstrong and enticing Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) inherits her uncle’s farm and is consequently tasked with maintaining its prosperity. She’s a modern woman in a man’s world, and nobody faults her for this.
Amidst Bathsheba’s own plans to make her property prosperous she finds her heart to be fertile ground for the sowing of the seeds of romance. Enter three very different suitors of equally different temperaments who offer alternative futures for Bathsheba: farmer and aging, eternal bachelor William Boldwood (Peter Finch), rakish Sergeant Frank Troy (the inimitable Terence Stamp) and the earthy, dutiful shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates). Each of these men enmeshes themselves deeply into the life of Bathsheba, each also offering a different form of love for our heroine. It’s left to her to not only find steady footing in her professional ventures, but also among the trials of her heart.
Fifty years onwards, those modes of modernness have surged appreciably; Bathsheba screens as a character of feminine feminism, a woman who must take control and keep power. Her literary roots remain intact here (Frederic Raphael’s adaptation is faithful to this) and Christie carries on this tradition to screen most adroitly. With her infamously perilous gaze, Christie commands any frame she is caged within. She bounces off her male co-stars and seems to outshine them all. Far from the Madding Crowd followed in a string of landmark films in Christie‘s career, cementing her as an icon of the Swinging Sixties. While her casting was a source of controversy at the time, her infusion of mod feminism into long-cemented literary tradition continues to feel fresh and accessible.
There a confidence and quintessentially English grace that she contributes. This is a film that thrives on the sweeping landscapes as much as the interpersonal passions. Gorgeous shots of rural England still come alive vividly. Images of Sergeant Troy silhouetted, sword in hand, against the hills at sunset, Bathsheba lost among the colourful flowers of her springtime garden and even Gabriel Oak in his element among the sheep all resurrect themselves onscreen delightfully. Far from the Madding Crowd is as sweeping and enthralling now as it was intended back in 1967. Classed as a period drama but feeling very modern in its sensibilities, this romanticization of rural Victorian England still shines.
Allie Gemmill | @alliegem