Far From The Madding Crowd

Far From The Madding Crowd
I want to review a production of this Thomas Hardy classic that was made by ITV back in 1998. Why would I want to talk about an adaption that is more than 10 years old – there is nothing topical or timely about it? Let me tell you why.

I lived in Atlanta, Georgia for five happy years. We had a lovely big house, nice school for the children and some very dear friends. We were very happy there but we missed our family in England and certain aspects of English culture – one of which was British Television (must be why I’m now British Television editor!)

Anyway, by 1998 I was beginning to feel the pull of home very strongly. I often watched Masterpiece Theatre and Mystery to get my fix of TV from back home. In those days, Russell Baker hosted Masterpiece Theatre and one evening he introduced a new adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd.

I had seen the 1967 film version starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates so I was interested to see a new television version. Russell Baker talked about Thomas Hardy, his life and loves and the fact that the story had shocked Victorian England because a woman (Fanny Robin) has an illegitimate baby. However, the fact of the baby was integral to the plot so despite the efforts of Hardy’s publisher – it had to remain.

Then Russell Baker said something I will never forget. He commented, “I had a bad cold as I started to watch this. By the end, I was so enraptured, my cold had completely gone.’

I then proceeded to watch some of the most glorious television ever. For those of you who haven’t read this classic, it centres round the proud and beautiful Bathsheba Everdene who is loved by three men – the quiet, loyal shepherd Gabriel Oak, the old rich landowner Father Boldwood and the young, dashing soldier Sergeant Frank Troy.

As I started to watch, I found myself in tears almost from beginning to end. First noble Gabriel Oak (played by the blissfully handsome Nathaniel Parker, perfect in the role) asks Bathsheba (the stunning Paloma Baeza) to marry him. She proudly thinks he is not good enough for her. Parker brings such a measure of dignity and reserved strength this part, that any women would be desperate to have him as a husband, and you’re left thinking, ‘stupid woman’.

Bathsheba is then wooed by the elderly Farmer Boldwood (Nigel Terry) after she sends him a Valentine as a joke. She doesn’t love him but as he tries to wear her down and persuade her to marry him, she meets the dashing Frank Troy (played by Jonathan Firth, brother of Colin from Pride and Prejudice) and he sweeps her off her feet.

Directed by Nicholas Renton, the casting, script and acting of this adaptation are all superb. The stunning scenery of Dorset (or Wessex as Hardy calls it in his novel) adds to the melancholy beauty of the whole piece. This is a far superior product to the 1967 film version.

I read the whole of Hardy’s works as a teenager when I was going through my Victorian romance period. Reading the novel again recently, I was struck by the convoluted language, the excessive description and the fact that he constantly goes off at a tangent. However, the 1998 version of his story is something I can watch again and again. It was almost the last thing I watched on television in the US, and it helped pull me back to the country of my birth.

Gabriel Oak to Bathsheba Everdene: “Whenever you look up, there will I be, and whenever I look up, there will you be’

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