An example of a film that was higher-rated by the public than the critics was the 1967 John Schlesinger adaption of Thomas Hardy’s rural novel of comely and modern Wessex woman Bathsheba Everdene. This, and this year’s remake, both view like a superior soap-opera.
Everdene, a headstrong, independent and attractive miss inherits her uncle’s farm and decides to run it herself. Two men fall in love with her. One is a dependable and talented sheperd, Gabriel Oak, whose proposal of marriage she once rejected and who now, sportingly, looks after her sheep, farm and income. The other is William Boldwood, a wealthy middle-aged land-owner and confirmed bachelor to whom she sends a very ill-considered Valentine card with, as a joke that is sadly taken seriously, the words MARRY ME.
As time goes on Boldwood proposes marriage, which she declines, and her solid Oak saves her hay and corn from fire and storms and a number of her sheep from an agonising death by pasture bloat, caused by them breaking out to gorge on young wet clover, which quickly blows up in the rumen and can collapse lungs. Oak uses an emergency treatment to save the sheep which involves the use of a metal spike (trocar) sheathed inside a metal tube (cannula) which is stabbed into the side of the sheep and the spike then withdrawn, leaving the liquids and gases under pressure to exit explosively through the tube. (For those interested in literary trivia Hardy gets the names of the two components the wrong way round in his novel).
Meanwhile a dashing young soldier, the reckless and unscrupulous Sergeant Frank Troy appears in our heroine’s life, and against her better judgement dazzles and seduces her with flattery and a flashing display of swordsmanship and then secures her hand in marriage, an ill-considered partnership that is destined to have tragic consequences. Prior to this Troy had got a young woman working for Boldwood, Fanny Robin, pregnant and had agreed to marry her. Sadly Robin went to the wrong church and in a fit of pique Troy refused to rearrange the ceremony, leaving her to die quietly and unknown in childbirth in the workhouse, a tragedy that genuinely sears Troy’s conscience.
The 1967 film starred the cinema’s darling at the time, Julie Christie as Everdene,,Alan Bates as Oak, Peter Finch as Boldwood and Terence Stamp as Troy. This year’s remake, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, is 50 minutes shorter with big cuts in Troy’s scenes and stars today’s cinema darling Carey Mulligan as Everdene, Matthias Schoenaerts as Oak, Michael Sheen as Boldwood and Tom Sturridge as Troy.
The original film has been correctly described as “a hard act to follow” Whether or not the remake has achieved this is something most critic’s juries are still out on, and it will be interesting to see if it wears as well, and as long, with the public.