FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD (1967) contains some of the most memorable scenes in cinema — including suicidal sheep and maniacal casket cracking. This epic love story is a near-perfect convergence of scene, score, story, and performance. The only thing that doesn’t work in this film is Julie Christie’s hair and makeup. Maybe it’s the frosted lip gloss. As in Dr. Zhivago, she just doesn’t quite seem historically accurate, although she is otherwise perfect.
Christie stars as Bathsheba, the unattainable catch of the English countryside, who struggles with her passion and lack of passion for the men in her life: Peter Finch as the desperate suitor, Alan Bates as the regular guy, and Terence Stamp as the hot bad boy. While Bathsheba struggles over finding the right man, she is also rolling up her sleeves to deal with the the trials and tribulations (and joys) of day-to-day farm life. She’s a flirt and a heartbreaker, passionate and vulnerable. She is also smart, powerful, and confident.
The film is based on the book of the same name by 19th century novelist Thomas Hardy. And although I love the book, watching the movie is way, way easier and more satisfying than slogging through Hardy’s heavy prose.
When I read that there was a remake of MADDING CROWD as a “romantic comedy,” I couldn’t help but be curious. The only thing I’m curious about now is that someone thought that might be a good idea.
TAMARA DREWE (2010), starring Bond girl Gemma Arterton, boasts better historically accurate hair, but the film is flat and dull as it traces Ms. Drewe’s quest to find love among her choice of uninteresting village men. So much for a laugh riot take on a classic.
I was so hopeful with the opening of this film, which begins with a classified post advertising a country writers’ retreat that is “Far from the madding crowd.” But the film is all downhill from there. Homage to Hardy abounds — but is it really funny when one of Tamara’s suitors is trampled by stampeding cows? If there were a Monty Pythonian take on it, perhaps.
There are a few clever takes on the classic-to-contemporary theme, like casting a rock star in the role of a typical Hardy bad boy, and instead of misunderstood letters there are missent emails. But if you’re looking for a few romantic comedy laughs, you won’t find them. Better to watch the original drama instead.
Sadly enough, FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD wasn’t released on DVD until 2009, so I think it’s been missed by many home theater fans. The trailer for the film is far from compelling (and you get to see why Julie Christie seems to be a time traveler instead of a 19th century beauty). Nonetheless, if you enjoy period dramas, tragic love stories, rain, and the English countryside, you’ll enjoy FAR FROM THE MADDING CROWD. A romantic “comedy” remake of it? Not so much.