A Movie Log

A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

Thursday, January 14, 2016

Far From the Madding Crowd (John Schlesinger, 1967)

People always complain about the way movies change the stories of their favorite novels, but screenwriter Frederic Raphael's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel shows why such changes are necessary. Raphael remains faithful to the plot, with the result that characters become far more enigmatic than Hardy intended them to be. We need more of the backstories of Bathsheba Everdeen (Julie Christie), Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), William Boldwood (Peter Finch), and Frank Troy (Terence Stamp) than the highly capable actors who play them can give us, even in a movie that runs for three hours -- including an overture, an intermission, and an "entr'acte." These trimmings are signs that the producers wanted a prestige blockbuster like Doctor Zhivago (David Lean, 1965), which had also starred Christie. But Hardy's works, with their characters dogged by fate and chance, don't much lend themselves to epic treatment. John Schlesinger, a director very much at home in the cynical milieus of London in Darling (1965) and Sunday Bloody Sunday (1971) and New York in Midnight Cowboy (1969), doesn't show much feeling for Hardy's rural, isolated Wessex, where the weight of tradition and the indifference of nature play substantial roles. What atmosphere the film has comes from cinematographer Nicolas Roeg's images of the Dorset and Wiltshire countryside and from Richard Rodney Bennett's score, which received the film's only Oscar nomination.

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