With the classic 1967 film of Far from the Madding Crowd being re-released this spring as well as a completely new version in cinemas from 1 May, it seems that once again Dorset is under the spell of Thomas Hardy’s novel
The Yarn loves John Schlesinger’s romantic 60s romp starring Julie Christie, Terence Stamp and Alan Bates and many local people will remember it being filmed on location in the area. Published here for the first time, Nick Gilbey shares the photos he took of the production as a film-mad teenager following the crew in his trusty Robin Reliant three-wheeler.
In the summer of 1966, small directional signs with the words “Appia Films” started popping up all over Dorset. As a 16-year-old who had already fallen in love with film-making, and who had just received the freedom of the road in his muddy-brown Reliant three-wheeler, the temptation to follow the signs was too great to resist. What did I find at the end of the trail? A film unit with a cast and crew of over a hundred people. It was like Hollywood had come to town or, to be more precise, to nearly every part of Dorset, to capture, on to 70mm Metrocolor film, the dramatic action and landscapes so vividly described in Thomas Hardy’s novel Far from the Madding Crowd.
Appia Films was the company that producer Joseph Janni set up and, with Julie Christie and director John Schlesinger, had made the film Darling. This movie had a relatively low budget and the story was played out against the backdrop of the Swinging Sixties in London. It was a success, grossing $12M at the box office and it also attracted the attention of the New York film critics who voted it the Best Motion Picture in 1965. On the back of this, Joseph Janni managed to secure a massive budget from MGM for the production of Far from the Madding Crowd, enabling the film to be made entirely on location over a six-month period.
At the end of one of the signed Appia routes was Bloxworth House. This deserted Jacobean house near Bere Regis had been transformed by the film unit into the large farmhouse that Bathsheba, played by Julie Christie, inherits from her uncle. Bloxworth was not a farmhouse and did not have a farmyard, so the film unit constructed the façades of all the farm buildings out of glass-fibre supported by a scaffolding frame. At the end of the farmyard was the front and one side of a tithe barn. It was a replica of the tithe barn in Abbotsbury where the interior scenes were filmed.
Other signs led to locations called Bat’s Head, the Golden Bowl, Scratchy Bottom and Hell Bottom where Bathsheba’s first cottage stood below Hardy’s Monument. It was here that Gabriel Oak, played by Alan Bates, delivered the lines to Bathsheba: “Whenever I look up, there you will be and, whenever you look up, there shall I be”. These words are repeated so poignantly at the end of the film.
Stills from the movie
Whether it was the vision of John Schlesinger, Richard MacDonald (production designer) or Nic Roeg (director of photography) or a combination of all three, the production indulged itself in using all the splendour of the Dorset countryside and neighbouring counties to tell the story. One sequence in particular illustrates this.
After the hiring fair, Gabriel Oak hitches a lift on a horse-drawn wagon. We see the wagon leaving Devizes, which doubled as Casterbidge (Dorchester) in the film. The next shot sees the wagon travelling along Eggardon Hill near Powerstock then past Waddon House near Portesham and onto the ridge above Encombe, not far from Corfe Castle. The sequence ends with Gabriel Oak jumping off the wagon and running down into the valley to the scene of a fire, which is at Bathsheba’s farm re-created at Bloxworth, again many miles away from the previous shot.
Waddon House was used for the exteriors of Mr Boldwood’s house. In front of the house, the unit filmed the threshing scene complete with puffing traction engine. The Burrell engine had been lovingly restored by local steam enthusiasts, Ron Willcox and Charlie Trott, near where they lived in Litton Cheney. I was good friends with their sons and it was during the filming of this sequence that I could get close to the action and take a lot of photos with my newly bought Petri 35mm SLR camera. There was no attempt to stop me and the atmosphere was quite relaxed. Today taking a picture of a feature film crew at work is a definite no-no. Broadchurch employed a bevy of security guard to stop onlookers taking pictures and on the set of the new Far from the Madding Crowd, extras were warned that taking a picture on set would lead to instant dismissal.
When the crew were filming farming scenes, the assistant director would often ask the extras, many of whom had a farming background, how to shoot a particular scene. There was much discussion as how corn would be sown by hand. Would the farm hands use their left or right hand to throw the seed across the ploughed field?
The decision to film through the winter of 1966 was a brave one. It meant that on the daily call sheets there would nearly always be what was titled, “The Weather Alternative”. This meant that if it was raining and the script called for dry weather, the unit would retreat to shoot inside, filming the interior scenes such as those in the tithe barn at Abbotsbury or the many scenes that were filmed at Bloxworth House. The sometimes grey and low winter light was often boosted with the help of one or two Mole Richardson Brutes. These powerful arc lights were carefully used by DOP, Nic Roeg, to give exterior scenes a certain gloss. Everywhere the unit went, two large Mole Richardson generators and a smaller one, mounted on a Land Rover, were there to supply 110volts dc to power the arc lights and help brighten the scenes, sometimes shining their light through windows to recreate sunshine pouring into the room.
The magic of cinema, even before computers were able to generate whole sequences, allowed the viewer to be tricked about certain locations. Many times John Schlesinger would just move the camera-angle through more than 180 degrees and the continuous action would be in a totally different location. This happened when Troy emerged from a carriage outside the Ilchester Arms in Abbotsbury to be confronted by Mr Boldwood. There is a conversation between the two men that starts outside the inn but when the camera angle changes they are outside Bathsheba’s farmhouse at Bloxworth. The grave of Fanny Robins was built in the churchyard of Sydling St Nicholas Church to the north of Dorchester. As Troy places some flowers on the grave, rainwater from the gargoyle on the church pours onto the grave. In this sequence the gargoyle is on the church at Sydling St Nicholas but the top shot of the water pouring onto the grave was filmed in the grounds of Bloxworth where the fibreglass gravestone had been re-located.
The cinema release of Far From the Madding Crowd in 1967 was not a great box office hit either here or in the United States, but the film has stood the test of time with perennial showings on TV. It is yet to be seen whether the new Far From The Madding Crowd film, directed by Thomas Vinterberg, will be a great cinematic success. The production was also shot entirely on location in Dorset (apart from the farmyard fire sequence) but chose very different locations to the film made nearly 50 years ago. Mapperton House was the primary location, with the sheep over the cliff scene filmed at Eype. One connecting feature is that the camera used on the latest version was made by Arri, the same German company that supplied one of the cameras used on the original film version.
Opening Sequence: Scratchy Bottom, Lulworth
Bathsheba’s cottage: Bench, Hell Bottom, between Hardy’s Monument and Friar Waddon
Sheep over cliff sequence: Sywre Head, Lulworth
The Hiring Fair: Devizes
The Dragoon Guards: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury and Eggardon Hill, Powerstock
- Bloxworth House near Bere Regis
- The Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury
- The fields around the farm: Encombe near Corfe Castle
- The sheep dip: Parks Withy Bed between Abbotsbury and Portesham
- The exteriors of the house: Waddon House near Portesham
- The interiors of the house: Thornhill Park near Stalbridge
- The farmyard after the storm: Friar Waddon near Upwey
The Corn Exchange: Devizes
All Saints and All Souls Churches: Devizes
Weatherbury Church and Fanny’s Grave: Sydling St Nicholas near Dorchester
The Seafront: Weymouth
The Sword Play: Maiden Castle near Dorchester
The Cockfight: Horton Tower near Cranborne
Troy’s Swim out to Sea: Durdle Door
The Fair: Coombe Valley Road, Preston, Weymouth
Yarn Magazine has three DVD copies to give away of the newly restored version of director John Schlesinger’s 1967 classic Far from the Madding Crowd.
[contact-form-7 404 "Not Found"]
Based on the novel by Thomas Hardy, the restored film will be released on DVD, Blu-Ray and EST on 1 June. This will be the longest version available in the UK to date and features brand new bonus material including exclusive interviews. The restoration process was personally overseen by the film’s cinematographer, Nicolas Roeg.
Headstrong and passionate Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) unexpectedly inherits a large farm in rural Dorset. Struggling to manage the farm herself, she captivates the hearts and minds of three very different men: an honest and hardworking sheep farmer (Alan Bates), a wealthy but tortured landowner (Peter Finch), and a reckless and violent swordsman (Terence Stamp). But as emotions become entangled, free spirited and innocent folly soon leads to devastating tragedy.
Scanned at 4K and restored at 2K from the original 35mm negatives, the film’s aspect ratio, which was incorrect on its original release, has also been corrected as part of the restoration. The Digital Film restoration was funded by STUDIOCANAL in collaboration with the BFI’s Unlocking Film Heritage programme (awarding funds from the National Lottery).
- Interview with Terence Stamp
- Interview with Frederick Raphael
- Interview with Nic Roeg
- Location: Inside Far from the Madding Crowd
To enter, fill in the form on this page.
Rules: Closing date is 31 May. Winners will be chosen at random by Yarn Magazine’s editorial team and notified by email. The judges’ decision is final, no correspondence will be entered into and there is no cash alternative. Winners’ names will be published on Yarn Magazine’s website. Entrants must be aged 18 or over.