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Far From The Madding Crowd
MGM/EMI 1967 Directed by John Schlesinger, script by Frederic Raphael from the Thomas Hardy novel
 

This is is arguably the most authentic big-screen Hardy adaptation to date. Before this all-location production, half a dozen unsuccessful attempts had been made to put Hardy's Wessex on screen, beginning in his own lifetime. There had been silent versions of FFMC in 1909 and 1915, based on a stage version of Hardy's 1874 novel. There were also four silent Tess films, the last a Hollywood "updated" version putting the dairy-maid in a nightclub setting. Hardy nevertheless did not share his devotees' outrage, and continued to support the idea of location-shot film adaptations. Hardy supported the identifying of his settings as based on real places (with names initially disguised for legal reasons), collaborating on tourism tie-ins such as penny postcards and maps of "Hardy's Wessex."

By the 1960s, British cinema was an enjoying a creative boom, and Hollywood was financing it. One of the key films had been Darling, starring Julie Christie, scripted by Frederic Raphael, produced by Joseph Janni, and directed by John Schlesinger. This was the period after The Sound Of Music when reserved-seat 'roadshow' presentations in 70mm big-screen format of 3-hour spectacles were popular, and MGM told Janni & Co it would finance a 'roadshow' remake of Tess with Camelot star Vanessa Redgrave. Janni evidently preferred to work with Christie (who had just played Lara in Dr Zhivago). However he did not see her as the tragic dairy-maid Tess, but as Bathsheba Everdene, the wilful heroine of Far From The Madding Crowd.

In the event, the 2.75 million "prestige" production of roadshow length (175 minutes) did not do so well in the larger American market. It lacked the strong storyline American audiences are accustomed to, a problem that can be detected in MGM's weak ad-line, "Her romance with three men becomes a bold adventure." Schlesinger has said the problem was they were too faithful to the novel, so that the end result was "too sluggish ... we were too worried about taking liberties with a classic." Alexander Walker's study of the period, Hollywood England, records that the story's unfortunate resemblance to Darling (one woman vis à vis three different men), was not noticed till too late, and the film could not escape negative comparison, as if the makers had wanted to remake the same story "in period," making their conception appear anachronistic, with Julie Christie reprising her Sixties "free girl" in Victorian dress. (Her eye-shadow makeup, noticeable in publicity shots, didn't help here.)

Still, it is possible the four collaborators' original common artistic purpose was indeed to contrast the Victorian attitude to love with the Swinging Sixties one of Darling a century later. (There is a similar conceptual parallel in the film version of The French Lieutenant's Woman). As Walker noted, "The film was more successful in re-creating Hardy's perspective of man's littleness measured, physically and spiritually, against God's scheme." While the story was episodic, there is no attempt to turn the material into fullscale tragedy, the dialogue having a warmth and humour lacking in many period adaptations. A lyrical undertone was also established in Richard Rodney Bennett's symphonic score, which opens literally on a pastoral note with a shepherd's flute (representing Gabriel Oak's flute playing in the story), and incorporates traditional Wessex folk tunes. The cinematography of Nicholas Roeg (his last assignment before making the transition to cult film director) is a vivid depiction of the real Wessex landscape, here a scatter of carefully-chosen separate locations. (The BBC's series on key British film locations, Big Screen Britain, did an episode covering the principal ones.)

The film's setting is the area around Hardy's "Weatherbury", modelled on Hardy's home town of Puddletown in central Dorset ("Wessex" is not mentioned), in the 1860s. Over twenty locations across two counties were juxtaposed on screen to create this on-screen. The opening clifftop shots are of Encombe in Purbeck, while Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates) tends his sheep at Scratchy Bottom between Durdle Door and Bat's Head cliff, some miles to the west. The house Bathsheba inherits is Bloxworth , a former vicarage in central Dorset, while her barn, where the wedding dance is held, is Abbotsbury's famous Tithe Barn (now a museum). Her neighbour Farmer Boldwood's farmhouse is Waddon House near Portesham in exteriors, and in interiors (where he dines with his dalmatians in attendance) is Thornhill House near Stalbridge in north Dorset, while his farm's out-buildings are at Friar Waddon. There are also various scenes showing farm work in the fields which have proved difficult to identify. The remarkable 'sheep bloat' scene, where Gabriel demonstrates his shepherding skills, was reportedly shot near Swyre Head in the Purbecks.
The scenes set at "Casterbridge" (Hardy's Dorchester), at the Corn Exchange and the hiring fair in the square, were shot at Devizes at Wiltshire, no doubt because of its large market square. (The film's press junket, attended by over 200 journalists, was held at Devizes's well-known Bear Inn, whose period facade can be seen in the film.) Also shot in Devizes, at St John's Church, was the scene where Fanny goes to the wrong Casterbridge church while Troy waits impatiently outside the other. A few scenes were also shot near Devizes, in the Vale of Pewsey. The cobbled street apparently leading up to Casterbridge's market-place is Shaftesbury's Gold Hill (later famous due to the Bike Boy Hovis commercials). Here, we see Gabriel heading up to the hiring fair while Sgt Troy leads his Dragoons down the hill. Later, Fanny struggles her way up here in the rain.
Fanny's meeting with Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) out with his Dragoons is up on the (then-unpaved) road over Eggardon Hill in west Dorset. Troy's seduction-by-swordsmanship display takes place within the massive grass-covered ramparts of Maiden Castle, the Celtic hillfort south of Dorchester. The seaside town where Bathsheba and Troy arrange marriage is quite recognizably, and authentically, Weymouth.
"Weatherbury" village is portrayed here as if adjacent to Bathsheba's house, and the street where Boldwood accosts Troy is played by Abbotsbury's main street. The cockfight was shot in east Dorset, at Horton Tower north of Wimborne. Troy's swim out to sea is from Durdle Door just west of Lulworth. "Captain Fortescue's Circus", at Greenhill Fair, where Troy appears as Dick Turpin, was shot just NE of Weymouth. "Weatherbury" church is portrayed by two churches in central Dorset. In interior shots it is Puddletown church, while in the graveyard exteriors it is Sydling St Nicholas - chosen no doubt for the story requirement its guttering has a gargoyle, which spouts rainwater down onto the luckless Fanny's grave.

Brian Pendreigh comments in his book on British film locations, "the scenery and the look of the production are stunning." Cinematographer Nicholas Roeg has also argued (in the filmmaking textbook Take 10) that the film is underestimated and misunderstood: "John tried to capture the feeling of the seasons through a rather leisurely pace." David Shipman in his 2-volume The Story Of Cinema has also argued the strength of the film, more evident on subsequent viewings, is in its authenticity of production: "Dorset and Wiltshire are photographed plain; the supporting faces look neither like actors nor Flaherty-like posers. Best of all, Schlesinger believed we might share the pleasures and pains of rural England .... there has never been a better film about the British countryside."  


Note On DVD Versions Of The Film

Far From The Madding Crowd is a film that needs to be seen uncut and in its proper widescreen ratio. This is where the problems have come in with the various home editions and TV versions of this very scenic and deliberately slow-paced film. Now that the main way to see a film in its proper format, relatively uncut and without commercials is on widescreen video or DVD, a critical look at the situation here is in order.
The earlier Region 2 [UK] DVD, a 2004 reissue of the American Warner Home Video release, was taken from a damaged print of a cut-down 2 hour US-TV version, with poor sound and the picture cropped to a widescreen-TV shape, despite the claim on the box it is the full 2.35:1 Panavision image. The Daily Mail's recent 'free DVD' giveaway version (which must be currently the most widely circulated version) is not true Panavision. (This can only be seen in the opening and closing credits.) But neither is it the squarish 4:3 'full-screen' image seen on BBC-TV and on video releases, with the edges of the shot cropped off for viewing on regular TV monitors. It's in the 16:9 aspect ratio matching those seen on widescreen TV sets, making this a wider, more complete image than previously available here on video. (There was a 2001 US video 'Widescreen Edition' listed as running 168 minutes, which is now withdrawn - it sells 2nd hand for $90 in the US, if you can find a copy.)
The DVD issued in 2004 by Studio Canal runs 156 minutes and, though described on the box as in 2.35:1 ratio, was not. The same remarks apply to the Warner DVD release which Amazon UK currently offers.
The Mail version was at least not the usual tatty relic used for some video releases and even seen at film festivals, which even omitted a final churchyard scene at Fanny's grave. (I once complained to Alan Bates about this situation when I ran into him at a film festival in 1994, and told him he at least had the clout to do something about this, by publicizing the fact no complete, undamaged 35mm print seemed to be available.)
The missing churchyard-reconciliation scene is present in the Mail's free DVD, which plays out at 156 mins. However confusion abounds as to the completeness of any given print. The IMDB gives various original lengths from 155 to 170 minutes, while the programme notes I did a few years back indicate its original roadshow length was 175 minutes, which in terms of performance time would've included a 15-minute interval, yielding an actual running time of 160 minutes. (I recall an interval on the 1967 first run.) Another factor to be taken into account is the 'PAL-speedup' effect, where films shot at 24 frames /second are shown on UK PAL-standard video players at 25 fps, due to the fact the UK runs on 50-cycle electrical standard. This would account for another missing six minutes (175 mins less 15 min interval = 160 mins x 24 fps/25 [TV-scan] fps = 153.6 mins. However some sources such as the Channel 4 website give the actual running time as 168 minutes, yielding a 161 min RT in PAL. (The British film censorship board the BBFC lists it as originally 169 mins, though of course this is a pre-release version, and producers often make last-minute cuts in the wake of sneak previews and opening-night reviews.)
A second adjustment factor is that true running time should properly include any sections of the film where there is no image but music is recorded on the film's magnetic soundtrack - the Overture, the intermission-break playout music, and the Entr'acte (Act II overture). Well-produced DVDs now include these, adding an on-screen title card saying 'Overture' etc. The Mail's DVD does not include these sections, though it does have a blackout at the correct place for the interval break, at the end of the storm scene, 97 minutes in. (I recall a film-festival showing where the projectionist shut down the film two minutes before this, in the middle of Troy's wedding speech in the barn, to have his tea-break.) Though part of the film, these music-only sections are usually cut from TV prints, and can only be heard on quality DVDs or on soundtrack music albums. Websites showcasing film music CDs indicate the film had both Overture and Entr'acte, accounting for at least five minutes of otherwise 'lost' running time, which could bring us back down to the current DVD RT of 156 minutes.
As to the missing music-score elements, the CD version of this sought-after soundtrack LP album is sadly unavailable, the label (Chapter III) having gone bankrupt. But popular demand has led to a concert version of a 15-minute suite from the score, including the overture, and this suite is available on a CD of Sir Richard Rodney Bennett's film music, as well as being included in anthology of music from romantic films.

film poster
The film's original poster: the problem of selling Hardy's tale of farming folk to a mainstream audience in this way will be apparent to anyone who has seen the actual film.

Sgt Troy with sword
At Maiden Castle hillfort, Sergeant Frank Troy of the 11th Dragoon Guards gives Bathsheba a seductive swordsmanship display.

Gabriel Oak, lamb

 

In Hardy's world, Shepherd Oak's early optimism will not last, replaced by a stoic fatalism after his flock is dashed on the rocks, ending any hope he has of marrying Bathsheba.

Troy and Bathsheba at Weymouth
Farmer Boldwood with gun
Farmer Boldwood - the fatal moment.

Gabriel and Bathsheba at Fanny's grave
This key scene, of approaching reconciliation between Gabriel and Bathsheba (filmed at Sydling St Nicholas), was one of the scenes cut from many prints.

Devizes square
The square at Devizes (NW Wiltshire), with The Bear in the background.

Film score CD cover

 
 
 
 
 
 
 

 

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