Far From The Madding Crowd (1967) - Blu-ray Review

'Troy arrives like Dracula, the vicious, undead 'other' here to sweep Bathsheba off and away to new violences: 'Bathsheba, I come here for you, I come to take you home'.'

With the release of a new adaptation of Thomas Hardy's Far From The Madding Crowd into cinemas, discussion around this 1967 version has increased over recent months. Star Terrence Stamp has perhaps had the most to say on the matter, featuring on a number of programmes (notably Radio 4's The Film Programme), reciting the fact that director John Schlesinger 'never fancied him' and that anything of worth from the film is down to cinematographer Nicolas Roeg. With Schlesinger having passed away in 2003, it is Roeg who has taken the reins to oversee this HD conversion. Unsurprisingly, Far From The Madding Crowd looks terrific.

This isn't to say that visuals alone are the film's sole strong point. Schlesinger may not put an indelible mark on Hardy's text, but he and screenwriter Frederic Raphael do manage to tease out some of the author's concerns. The film's approach to Hardy's attractively modern feminist ideas, and thoughts towards equality of relationships, for example, is not to shout it from the rooftops but to quietly inveigle it into the film. 'We'll send the women home to bed', cries Sergeant Troy (Stamp), as Schlesinger cuts to a wild storm raging outside. A jump forward in time and Schlesinger cuts back to Troy and his alcohol-infused cohorts asleep in the barn, as the weather begins to threaten the farm's crops. Later, Troy arrives like Dracula, the vicious, undead 'other' here to sweep Bathsheba (Julie Christie) off and away to new violences: 'Bathsheba, I come here for you, I come to take you home'.

Whilst that may be a success of Raphael's script, Hardy writes dense text and the screenwriter occasionally struggles to penetrate it, whilst Schlesinger struggles to animate. The film may be famous for Stamp's semi-erotic sword-swishing scene, but there are vast moments elsewhere that feel confined to stasis, as the cast deliver dialogue that can seem leaden. Despite the clear overtones of equality, there is also a slight feeling that we never really get to know Bathsheba properly. At risk of referencing the flawed Bechedel Test: the majority of her conversations are about or conducted with her potential suitors.

When the pace does slow, Schlesinger at least has a sterling cast to rely on, much needed in a film which drags at one hundred and sixty-eight minutes. Christie is outstanding, Stamp is fine and Alan Bates is impressive as Gabriel Oak, but it is a refined Peter Finch as farm owner William Boldwood who steals the show, shuffling around with all of the repression that Bathsheba sheds so effortlessly.

Far From The Madding Crowd is released on UK Blu-ray and DVD on 1st June 2015.

By Sam Turner. Sam is editor of Film Intel, and can usually be found behind a keyboard with a cup of tea. He likes entertaining films and dislikes the other kind. He's on , Twitter and several places even he doesn't yet know about.

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