Far From the Madding Crowd by Thomas Hardy, adapted by Nick McCarty

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BBC Radio 7, 20-27 January 2011

In Marilyn Imrie’s production, first broadcast in 1990, Far from the Madding Crowd was transformed into a love-story in which Bathsheba Everdene (Janet Maw) was pursued by three male suitors of differing socio-economic backgrounds: Gabriel Oak (David Burke) was an honest farmer with a modest income; unaware of the differing ways in which males and females responded to various social situations, he assumed (quite wrongly) that Bathsheba’s one aim in life was to find a male protector for the rest of her natural life. Farmer Boldwood (Michael N. Harbour) had a far higher income, and could offer Bathsheba anything she wished – fine dresses, expensive jewelry, a comfortable lifestyle, with nothing to do except adorn the furniture. Try as he might, however, he could not understand why Bathsheba should repudiate his offers; like a child, he repeatedly begged her to accept his offer of marriage, and eventually secured a tentative acceptance. Sergeant Frank Troy (Tim McInnerny), a commissioned officer, had no land, no money, and no prospect; on the other hand, he could offer Bathsheba the kind of love that the two farmers had no knowledge of. Needless to say Bathsheba chose Troy for a husband, and lived to regret her decision thereafter.

By focusing on this love-story, director Imrie underlined the novel’s moral purpose: that the four protagonists had to face the consequences of their actions. Once Oak had been rejected, he suppressed his ardor and eked out a comfortable – if rather melancholy existence – as Bathsheba’s farm manager. Boldwood perpetually deluded himself into believing that Bathsheba loved him; his illusions were brutally dispelled, however, at a lavish wedding-party, when Sergeant Troy (who had previously been missing, believed dead) returned to reclaim his wife. In a fit of jealousy, Boldwood took his shotgun and blasted a bullet through Troy’s heart. As he sank to the floor, the sergeant understood that this was some form of retribution for his unreliability; having spent most of his past life spending Bathsheba’s money on drink and gambling, he had to face the consequences.

The principal drama of the adaptation centered on the power-game involving the three men as they competed for Bathsheba’s affections. Oak lived up to his surname; a stoical figure of reliability, who acted throughout the six episodes as narrator. Even if he didn’t have much to offer, we could always trust in what he said. Again befitting his name, Boldwood was far more aggressive in manner as he repeatedly protested his undying affection for Bathsheba, while being stubbornly reluctant to admit the fact that she did not love him. McInnerny’s Troy was full of sarcastic laughs and supercilious sneers; being younger and more attractive than either Boldwood or Oak, he had the kind of physical advantages that could attract Bathsheba’s attention.

Tired of her struggles for happiness, as well as trying to keep her farm afloat, Bathsheba ended up by falling into Oak’s arms. As she did so, she breathed a sigh of relief. While her marriage might not be entirely satisfactory (Gabriel was neither attractive nor very interesting), he offered the kind of stability that Bathsheba craved. If she had to face the consequences of her actions in the future, she would at least have a male companion – not a protector – to support her.

Set in a rural world dictated by the rhythm of the seasons, this Far From the Madding Crowd suggested that while individuals had the freedom to act as they wished, they still had to face some kind of fateful retribution – especially if they had committed crimes, or abused their fellow-citizens.