Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, adapted by Graham White

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Classic Serial on BBC Radio 4

BBC Radio 4, 23 September - 7 October 2012
Graham White's three-part version offered a fascinating contrast to Nick McCarty's six-part adaptation of the Hardy novel, first broadcast in 1990 and regularly repeated on BBC Radio 4 Extra. With a longer running-time at his disposal, McCarty concentrated more closely on character-development, while explaining in detail the intricacies of the plot. To listeners unacquainted with the novel, White's version might have seemed rather confusing as it attempted to tell a lot of the story in a very short time.
Unlike McCarty's version, White shifted attention away from the three male characters on to Bathsheba Everdene (Alex Tregear). As a single woman trying to make her way in a patriarchal society, life proved extremely difficult. She was regarded as nothing more than an unpaid servant who would be expected to get married and stay at home while her husband continued the 'real business' of running a farm. Bathsheba was not prepared to countenance this life, which helps to explain why she peremptorily refused Gabriel Oak's (Shaun Dooley's) and Farmer Boldwood's (Toby Jones') clumsily worded proposals. By contrast Sergeant Troy (Patrick Kennedy) offered her the (illusory) prospect of love with no strings attached, which helps to explain why she entered so willingly - and rapidly - into a relationship.
Director Jessica Dromgoole suggested that Oak's and Boldwood's amatory inadequacies were inevitable in a rural society that disliked overt displays of emotion - especially from men. If anyone did try to express themselves, their behaviour was discussed at length by the villagers in the local hostelry. I felt sorry for Jones' Boldwood, as he tried yet failed to convey his feelings, eventually resorting to the kind of cliches that repelled rather than attracted Bathsheba. Oak understood his verbal inadequacies and devoted himself stoically to his work (as indicated by his surname).
Yet farming was the only life that the villagers knew; if it was disrupted in any way, their collective livelihood might be put at risk. Bathsheba found this out to her cost, as Troy plied the local labourers with strong drink, rendering them unable to gather in the harvest. It was only due to Oak's strength of character that at least some of the annual crop was saved.
As in other Hardy adaptations, Dromgoole's production was livened by period music (from Colin Guthrie, Chris Davies and Lauren Swift) that also served a thematic function. Whenever the action shifted to the local hostelry, where the locals gathered to chew over the day's events over ale, we could hear music in the background, suggesting good fellowship and collective well-being.  This served as a contrast to the prevailing atmosphere of foreboding that ran throughout the production, in which fate dictated the characters' lives. Despite their best efforts, they were always subject to the vagaries of the weather. The hostelry and its music offered them a brief period of respite, in which they could enjoy themselves without worrying about what happened next.
Distinguished by four fine central performances from Tregear, Dooley, Kennedy and Jones, Dromgoole's production emphasized how well Hardy's novels are suited to radio adaptation, perhaps more so than film and/or television (for example, in John Schlesinger's rather elephantine 1967 film with Alan Bates).