BBC Radio 7, 1-8 September 2009
Another adaptation from BBC 7's recent Hardy season brought back
memories of John Schlesinger's famous 1967 film with Alan Bates and Julie Christie, which combined 1960s hedonism
with a story set against the unchanging rhythms of rural Dorset at the beginning of the twentieth century. Hardy's novel was
transformed into a struggle between old and new worlds - inevitably the old triumphed, even if Bates' and Christie's
star images at that time invited us to sympathize with the characters they portrayed.
For those with shorter memories, Marilyn Imrie's radio version evoked memories of
Schlesinger's television of The Mayor of Casterbridge (1978) by casting Janet Maw as Bathsheba Everdene. In the Schlesinger
adaptation she played Elizabeth-Jane as an outwardly mousey person possessing an unusual strength of will. Although bullied
by Alan Bates' coarse Michael Henchard, she ultimately proved the more durable personality, proving beyond doubt that
whereas Hardy's heroines might possess limited social and intellectual aspirations, they have a greater power of self-determination
compared to their male counterparts.
This radio version of Far From the Madding Crowd explored similar themes.
Women were expected to show 'constancy' - more accurately rendered as 'submissiveness.' Gabriel Oak (Michael N.
Harbour) and Sergeant Troy (Tim McInnerny) believed it was their god-given right to possess Bathsheba, who in turn made every
effort to resist them. The narratibe was recounted by Oak himself; it seemed as if he was still trying to cast Bathsheba in
a predetermined role (a femme fatale), even though the events he spoke about took place a long time previously. By
this method director Marilyn Imrie interpreted Hardy's story as a male struggle to reaffirm what had been 'traditionally'
accepted as their authority over women.
As the six-part adaptation unfolded, it eventually became clear that Oak's efforts
were futile: in spite of their outward aggression, the male characters could not impose their will on Bathsheba. This deficiency
rendered their names somewhat ironic: Oak showed none of the hardness and constancy of an oak tree, while Troy fell well below
the standards expected of the heroes of the ancient city. The truly strong personality was Bathsheba herself, as she took
control of the narrative - even though Oak remained the de facto narrator - and manipulated it to her own ends, by
communicating directly with the listeners through asides. If nothing else, Imrie's production showed how women can enjoy lives
of their own, despite men's best efforts to limit them.