Far from the Madding Crowd (1967)

Far from the Madding Crowd (1967), directed by John Schlesinger.

Through hard work, Gabriel Oak has become an independent sheep farmer. He proposes marriage to the lovely Bathsheba Everdene, a somewhat contrary young woman staying with relatives near by. She won't have him, but maybe he'll keep trying...

Reversals of fortune. An busy but inexperienced sheep dog drives Gabriel's sheep off of a cliff, killing them and ruining him. He shoots the dog, which is how you know you are watching a Thomas Hardy adaptation. He's reduced to common farm laborer and hits the road looking for work.

Meanwhile Bathsheba has inherited her own farm. She hires Gabriel and he, of course, is the most stalwart and competent man in her life. Older farmer Boldwood is interested in her, but she wants the caddish but yummy Sergeant Troy -- "a young girl's fancy and an old maid's dream" (-- Jethro Tull, "Velvet Green").

After vast sorrow and tragedy, having exhausted all other possibilities, maybe she'll do the right thing.

This is a fine and very close adaptation of the book, just slightly condensed and using much of the original dialogue. The perennial problem in adapting books to movies: how closely to follow the text? Great books are not necessarily great shooting scripts. Look at Scorsese's The Age of Innocence (1993), a meticulous page-by-page close adaptation of the book, where neither book nor film are very exciting.

Here it works. The humanity of all the characters is real to us, their dilemmas wrench our hearts. We're there with the country folk, their hard lives and simple pleasures. The story has nightmare passages, as when Bathsheba must open the coffin of another young women to see her face and the stillborn child with her.

Great photography -- as we expect -- from Nicolas Roeg.

The actors are among the best of that era: Alan Bates, Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Peter Finch. I've always thought Christie exceedingly beautiful. She has severe features, like antique statuary, and I love that strong nose.

I call it a "great book" but that's for the story. Hardy doesn't write very well, although I'm told his poetry is good. His novels are set in "Wessex", a collection of fictional place names overlaid on the real southwest England.

Two criticism: (1) at three hours my attention begins to flag. (2) A famous scene is Sergeant Troy's sword-exercise wooing of Bathsheba. He cuts and slashes all the greenery around her while she stands still in quiet erotic submission. The film does a bizarre treatment of this scene that I think doesn't work very well.

Available on Warner Archive Blu-ray.