Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) has been left a farm to look after, but as a woman in the nineteenth century, damn few around the countryside believe she has what it takes to make something of the place, and assume she will be seeking a husband to help her. Yet as local shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates) discovers, though he admits to her he has admired her from afar for some time and would like to marry her to offer security, she isn't at all interested in marriage with someone she does not love and sad to say, she just does not love Gabriel. She likes him well enough, but not enough to stay under the same roof as him, and besides, he has recently suffered a mishap when his youngest, wildest sheepdog forced his flock over a cliff...
Director John Schlesinger's adaptation of Thomas Hardy's classic novel Far from the Madding Crowd didn't half get some stick when it was premiered back in the late sixties. Both he and his star Julie Christie were coming off the success of their Oscar-winning, modern as you like melodrama Darling at the time, so when they announced it was their intention to bring literature to the screen you could practically hear the cognoscenti's chorus of derision throughout the nation, never mind the globe. And so it was it was released to poor reviews almost across the board, with very few willing to give them a chance to prove themselves, how different from the largely respectful reaction to the 2015 remake.
That was no less fashionable in its casting and direction, but it seemed the world was more willing to accept a current variation on a Victorian novel in the twenty-first century, as if you went back to the sixties incarnation you would not necessarily have the same snobbish frame of mind that greeted it way back when, especially as we could see that cast not as a mixture of actors cast for their rustic looks first and ability second, nor as various bright young things of the day who would be there to drum up interest at the box office among their (presumably regarded as shallow) fanbases. It may be the case Christie was so identified with the decade when she won fame that she inadvertently pickled the production as Swinging London's day out to the countryside, but that was without acknowledging she proved herself elsewhere.
She was always a performer who came across as frequently on the brink of ruining a take, usually through a sense of lack of confidence, but had drawn on reserves of talent to carry off her performances no matter what, and so it was here, yet her style as a woman who was born before her time in this Victorian setting contributed some worth to the project, more than was admitted in 1967. As for her co-stars, Alan Bates was a forlorn but resourceful Gabriel, the man who if Bathsheba had simply accepted his proposal in the first ten minutes would have saved so many people a lot of trouble, and Peter Finch as landowner William Boldwood grew increasingly crushed knowing he was of no romantic interest to her, though financially he may be very useful.
But Terence Stamp, if anything the male equivalent of Christie, enjoyed the showiest role as caddish soldier Sergeant Troy and he certainly made the most of it, be that his celebrated demonstration of swordsmanship to a dazzled Bathsheba (even though he cuts off a lock of her hair - never mess with a woman's hair, Troy) or his staged suicide when he feels the pressure of married life has led him away from the partner he should have been with all along, only now it is far too late. All the way through the basic flaws in everyone's personality guides them wrong, with Bathsheba at the heart of it, arguably setting in motion the ultimate tragedies they each face, which although the tale was claimed for feminist interpretations could just as easily portray a woman who is not to be trusted to know her own mind and be aware of what was best for herself. Nicolas Roeg's lush photography carried the plot which tended to drag when it was one damn thing after another, but setpieces like the harvest storm and the return of the coffin were better than the detractors would accept. Music by Richard Rodney Bennett.
[The Studio Canal Region 2 DVD has been remastered and looks as good as it ever did. No extras, though.]