Tamed by experience

This is my review of Far From The Madding Crowd [DVD] [2015].

Visually beautiful, well-acted with some impressive recreations of harvesting by hand in golden cornfields or quenching a conflagration in a barn, this latest filming of Thomas Hardy's classic did not live up to my hopes. Perhaps my memories of the lovely Julie Christie in the role of the headstrong landowner Bathsheba Everdene and the fatally attractive Sergeant Troy in the shape of Terence Stamp make this disappointment inevitable. Yet I was prepared to give this film a chance.

Reviewers have criticised Belgian Mathew Schoenaert's English – which I thought was rather good. It bothered me more that none of the main characters had any trace of a Dorset accent. Perhaps because of the need to cram a complex story into two hours, the storyline proceeds in rapid, jerky steps with no time for development of situations and characters. Director Schlesinger's much longer 1967 film, made practicable by the convention of an interval, had the benefit of more scope to establish these aspects. I missed the originality of the earlier film, from which, for instance, I still recall the surreally tragic transport of the coffin of a young girl who has died in childbirth as seen through the eyes of the drunken carter. The wild coastal landscape also seemed to play more of a part in the first film from the memorable opening shots. It is worth making comparisons with the 1967 film of which a digitally enhanced version is scheduled for release in June 2015.

I accept that the new version may provide sharper insights into the issue of female equality and fulfilment in a society where convention demanded that men proposed marriage to women they barely knew, taking it for granted that they would play a subservient role in their husbands's lives. Yet it is more romantic and soft-centred, insufficiently moving, leaving little doubt from the outset which of the trio of stalwart shepherd Gabriel Oak, repressed beneath his suave exterior landowner Mr Boldwood and sword-flashing cad Sergeant Troy will ultimately prove to be the successful rival for Bathsheba's hand.

⭐⭐⭐ 3 Stars

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