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Friday February 15th 2019

Far From The Madding Crowd | 1967

Far From The Madding Crowd filming location: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset
Far From The Madding Crowd location: Gabriel Oak walks to Weatherbury to find work: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset

Using real locations in Dorset and Wiltshire, in the West Country of England, John Schlesinger brings to Thomas Hardy all the naturalistic innovations of Sixties new wave cinema, along with the gorgeous widescreen photography of Nicolas Roeg and a haunting score by Richard Rodney Bennett.

The novel’s fictitious setting of ‘Weatherbury’ is based on Puddletown, five miles northeast of Dorchester on the A35.

The film begins on the coast a few miles to the south. The caravan of shepherd Gabriel Oak (Alan Bates), where the rogue sheepdog drives his flock over a cliff, stood on the cliffs at Scratchy Bottom, just west of the spectacular sea-arch of Durdle Door, on the Dorset Coast Path, west of Lulworth Cove. Durdle Door itself, also seen in biopic Wilde with Stephen Fry as the great playwright, features later in the film as Sergeant Troy (Terence Stamp) swims out to sea.

When Gabriel visits Bathsheba Everdene (Julie Christie) to present her with a lamb (as a pretext to ask her to marry him), it’s quite a walk he undertakes. Her humble farmhouse was a disused farm building beneath the Hardy Monument (that’s Vice Admiral Hardy, of “kiss me” fame, not the novelist) north of Portesham, about five miles west of Dorchester.

As Oak’s fortunes are plummeting, Bathsheba’s rise when she inherits ‘Weatherbury Farm’ (based, in the book, on Waterston Manor in Puddletown), which in the movie is represented by Bloxworth House, a 17th century brick house near Bere Regis (it’s occasionally open to the public).

Seemingly just across from ‘Weatherbury Farm’, the house of Squire Boldwood (Peter Finch) is Friar Waddon House, a private house much closer to her old farmhouse, a couple of miles east of Portesham.

The interior of Boldwood’s house, though, is Thornhill House between Stalbridge and Sturminster Newton, north towards Shaftesbury.

Far From The Madding Crowd location: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset
Far From The Madding Crowd location: Gabriel Oak walks to Weatherbury to find work: Gold Hill, Shaftesbury, Dorset

Shaftesbury itself, on the A30 about 20 miles west of Salisbury in Wiltshire, supplies one of the film’s most strikingly recognisable locations. As Oak arrives in ‘Casterbridge’ to look for work, the steep cobbled street up which he labours, and down which Sergeant Troy and his men ride, is Gold Hill, familiar to a generation of British TV viewers from the Hovis bread adverts. It’s behind the Town Hall of Shaftesbury.

Far From The Madding Crowd location: Market Place, Devizes, Wiltshire
Far From The Madding Crowd location: the hiring fair: Market Place, Devizes, Wiltshire | Photograph: wikimedia / Edward Williams

The hiring fair itself, though, is held in the Market Place of Devizes, almost 30 miles to the north. On the square you can see the Bear Hotel (still going strong), where the farm-owners relax, and the Corn Exchange, where Bathsheba proves she’s more than a match for the local traders.

Also in Devizes is St John’s Church, Long Street, which became ‘All Saints’, the church outside which Sergeant Troy waits for the unfortunate Fanny, who’s got the wrong church and fatefully misses her wedding.

Far From The Madding Crowd location: Maiden Castle, Dorset
Far From The Madding Crowd location: Troy dazzles Bathsheba with his swordsmanship: Maiden Castle, Dorset | Photograph: wikimedia / Ray Beer

Arrogantly dismissing Fanny, Sergeant Troy now meets Bathsheba. The grassy, stepped hillocks, where he dazzles her with his swordsmanship is Maiden Castle, a spectacular ten-acre neolithic camp a mile or two southwest of Dorchester on the road to Martinstown. The camp, which became a hill fort, was the site of a bloody battle during the Roman invasion, and subsequently became a Roman encampment.

The pair meet up again on the seafront at Weymouth, in front of the Royal Hotel on the Esplanade, and make a sudden decision to get married. The seaside town of Weymouth, incidentally, also provides the setting for Joseph Losey's unsettling 1963 sci-fi The Damned.

The ‘Weatherbury’ street on which the furious Boldwood confronts Troy about his ungentlemanly treatment of Fanny only to discover that the dashing soldier has married his beloved Bathsheba, is Market Street, Abbotsbury, west of Portesham.

Far From The Madding Crowd location: Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury, Dorset
Far From The Madding Crowd location: getting drunk at the harvest home celebration: Tithe Barn, Abbotsbury, Dorset | Photograph: wikimedia / Ian Capper

It’s in the Tithe Barn at Abbotsbury that Troy lavishes hot brandy on the village’s menfolk as Gabriel Oak and Bathsheba struggle through the night to save the hayricks from a violent storm.

Far From The Madding Crowd location: Horton Tower, Horton, Dorset
Far From The Madding Crowd location: Troy loses his money at a cockfight: Horton Tower, Horton, Dorset | Photograph: wikimedia / Simon Barnes

It becomes clear that Troy is a bad lot, losing money at cockfighting in the six-storey 18th century folly Horton Tower, just outside Horton, about ten miles north of Bournemouth.

Abandoned, Fanny dies in childbirth and is buried in the graveyard of St Nicholas at Sydling St Nicholas, seven miles northwest of Dorchester, where the guilty and grief-stricken Troy erects an elaborate gravestone, before apparently disappearing out to sea from the beach at Durdle Door.

With Troy out of the way, it’s time for Boldwood to declare his love for Bathsheba and propose. But this is Thomas Hardy, so don’t start celebrating just yet.