A new Thomas Hardy film adaption hits the theaters today — Far From the Madding Crowd, starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, and Michael Sheen, opens in the U.S., and it’s based on Hardy’s 1874 novel. This tragic romance of an independent woman in rural England has been filmed several times, as have many of Hardy’s works. Since I’m a HUGE fan of his realistic and proto-feminist novels, I figure this is a good time to recap five excellent Thomas Hardy film adaptions.
Far From the Madding Crowd (1967)
Of course, I have to start with this one, it’s the most well-known version of Madding Crowd until now. Starring Julie Christie as feisty Bathsheba Everdine, this film excels in capturing the sweeping south England vistas that Thomas Hardy wrote about and loved so well. The rural characters are the ones most accurately depicted, both in action and in costume. Christie, however, either has her hair down or sports a ’60s bouffant throughout the film (well, she did in ’65’s Doctor Zhivago too, so par for the course). Still, Alan Bates is wonderful as the put-upon Gabriel Oak, and Terrance Stamp is a perfect rouge as Sergeant Troy. Bonus points for lots of cute sheep and dogs (that meet a tragic end; don’t look, Kendra!).
Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles has been adapted for film and TV many times, but this will always be the best IMO. Whatever you think of Roman Polanski as a person, he’s a brilliant director. This film captures the grand sweep of Hardy’s natural settings and creates an intimate portrait of “a pure woman” as the novel is subtitled. Nastassja Kinski’s performance as Tess is outstanding, showing Tess’ complicated struggle with Victorian morality, religion, and patriarchy. Anthony Powell won a Best Costume Oscar for this film, and his designs encompass deceptively simple 1880s rural clothing to several elaborate bustle gowns Tess wears during her finale as a kept woman.
The Return of the Native (1994)
This is my absolute favorite Thomas Hardy novel and the book that got me into Victorian literature when I was in high school. But there has been only one filmed adaption of it ever! This BBC/Hallmark Hall of Fame TV version stars Catherine Zeta-Jones as the willful Eustacia Vye, trapped in rural Egdon Heath and doomed by a poor marriage choice to Ray Stevenson. The production captures her sense of desolation and gives an ideal backdrop for this passionate heroine. Hotsy-totsy Clive Owen plays secret (and equally doomed) love interest Damon Wildeve. The costuming is pretty decent mid-Victorian, and while there’s lots of long, free-flowing hair, I’ll give it a pass because it’s the only filmed version of the book. Currently, I can only find it on DVD, and dayum, I wish it was available streaming somewhere!
The Woodlanders (1997)
If you like Rufus Sewell, you’ll love this movie. I’m often on the fence about him, but he’s a wonderful, tragic woodsman Giles Winterborne here, set aside by his childhood sweetheart Grace Melbury, played by Emily Woof. Her choice of a fancy-pants doctor as husband is her undoing, as well as Giles’, and through these romantic entanglements Hardy pokes holes in both class strictures and sexual morality. This movie was filmed on location in the south of England, and that, plus the costumes are beautiful and evoke the community and rural, late Victorian era.
Based on Hardy’s last novel Jude the Obscure (1894), this is easily his darkest work and a gut-wrenching yet beautiful film. I saw it in the theater and loved it, but I don’t think I can ever watch it again! Christopher Eccleston stars as Jude, a stonemason who wants to attend university, is trapped into one marriage, but is in love with a cousin. Kate Winslet plays Sue, that cousin, who has issues with sex and marriage. The novel explores class restrictions and sexual morality (obviously BIG issues with Hardy), and it was so scandalous at the time that Hardy swore off novel-writing in favor of poetry. This adaption is faithful to the book, gritty and true. The costumes are particularly good, designed by award-winner Janty Yates. Random trivia: Christopher Eccleston played the ninth Doctor Who, and the tenth Doctor, David Tennant, is onscreen here as “drunken undergraduate.”
Do you have a favorite Thomas Hardy film adaption?