I originally saw this film as part of Silver Screenings 1967 Blog-a-thon in June. The site asks contributors to see a film made in 1967, considered a break out year in film making, and write about it. The angle can come from anywhere from historical context, director, actor, or cinematography. I looked for a challenge. While people can pick the same movie, I wanted to write about another movie that’s not necessarily The Graduate. In the end I decided to pick Far From the Madding Crowd, a film released in 1967 from Britain.
The film tells the story of Bathsheba Everdene and the four men in her life longing to win her hand. I admit to feeling a little stuck in summarizing the movie. The last two movies based on novels, namely Tess of the D’Urbervilles and Return of the Native, I read before watching the films. I went into this movie a little blind, but I saw enough of Hardy’s trademarks to feel at home in the movie.
I can sum up Hardy’s feeling about life in one popular phrase ‘life’s a bitch and then you die.’ Fate plays a role with his characters as they meet, fall in love, fall out of love, marry (usually the wrong) people, or have ill-fated love affairs. This movie is no different as Bathsheba turns down Gabriel Oakes as he proposes marriage out of her pride. Gabriel seems like a solid, hard-working guy much like John Thorton in Elizabeth’s Gaskell’s North and South. (I guess among many literary archetypes there must be a guy-to-turn-down one.) She plays around with the affections of William Boldwood by sending the bachelor-farmer a valentine as a joke. I remember typing this is not going to turn out well while watching the movie. It’s a film based on a Thomas Hardy novel, which means something never goes right. Add to this mix Francis (Frank) Troy, a military officer meeting Bathsheba while on the rebound from his break up with servant girl Fanny Robin. Turns out Fanny ended up at the wrong church for their wedding. Frank felt jilted and decided to break it off. Did I mention this is based on a Thomas Hardy novel?
While Thomas Hardy’s work provided an in with the movie, I got it for two reasons: Terrence Stamp and Julie Christie. I see Julie Christie in supporting roles in major films, although she earned an Oscar nomination for Away with Her. As for Terrence Stamp..well…what can you say about the actor I still remember fondly as General Zod in Superman II. (Sorry Michael Shannon). Stamp walked with the dashing bearing of a military officer, but brought a great darkness to this role. Troy abandoned one woman before marriage then another woman during the relationship. Troy gambles, ignores Bathseba, proves an irresponsible farmer during a pivotal scene taking place as a thunderstorm rages on, but something got lost as the scenes of his regret over Fanny Robin played out. It’s not the General Zod memory, more like the script itself with more time devoted to those scenes and not enough to establishing the bond with Fanny Robin.
I have to say the entire film feels like a product of 1967 more than its 19th century setting. At the risk of sounding silly, Julie Christie sported some 1967 eye make up to go along with the hair dos. While the film does a good job of capturing the Wesssex landscape, so often a character in Hardy’s novels, it felt too melodramatic as if the actors played types and not characters made to feel real to the audience. As I wrote that last sentence, I recall Return of the Native and Tess of the D’Urbervilles noticing the vivid characters Hardy wrote and named can easily lend itself to melodrama. While cinematography proves easy with Hardy’s landscape of his novels, the script itself can go a little wrong and the actors show it. While I had fun watching two respected actors, I kept getting the feeling something felt off. I guess like any movie era, including one boasting a film like The Graduate, without a strong script everything else feels a little off. On other hand the film is a product of its time as Bathsheba Everdene looks made up like a little girl among a company of men, and often comes off as a spoiled brat as opposed to someone whose drive for something more twists into pride.
In the end English costume drama aficionados would enjoy this movie, or see it out of curiosity. It’s interesting to note a remake has finished with Carey Mulligan (Shame, An Education) playing the lead role of Bathsheba Everdene. Will the productions inch a little closer to the novel, or will it look like a 19th century novel through 21st century eyes?