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December 2021 Far from the Madding Crowd

TALES FROM THE HILLS
(Ashmansworth and Crux Easton)

Far from the Madding Crowd

In 1966 a small ad appeared in the Andover Advertiser: “Wanted: film extras, £2 a day.” No mention of the film, or who was in it. Two people from Ashmansworth applied, expecting some low-budget movie. It turned out to be just the opposite. It was a very lavish production starring Julie Christie, who had just won the Oscar for Best Actress (for Darling) and directed by John Schlesinger, who was shortly to win an Oscar himself (for Midnight Cowboy). Today it remains the definitive film version of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd.

So the Ashmansworth pair found themselves cast in the title role, the Madding Crowd, albeit with a hundred others, playing opposite Julie Christie, and becoming the envy of their friends.

Strangely enough, they were not the first pair from Ashmansworth to find themselves directed by John Schlesinger in a film of rural Wessex. Back in 1948, while still at Oxford, young Schlesinger, who was himself from Inkpen, had recruited Kiffer and Nigel Finzi from Ashmansworth, with many others from the villages round his home, to supply the crowd in his own grim film about murders in Combe and hangings on Combe Gibbet. He called it The Black Legend. He even roped in his fellow undergraduate, Robert Hardy, to act in it.

Both Schlesinger and Finzi were inspired by Thomas Hardy. One of Finzi’s prize possessions in the Book Room at Ashmansworth was the original handwritten version of Hardy's poem We Field-Women, complete with the poet’s crossings-out and emendations. It was one of many Hardy poems Finzi set to music. The poem is in three stanzas. It describes a year’s weather and a year’s work on a dairy farm: how it rained, how it snowed, and how it shone - and how strongly the weather affected the women’s lives and work.
 
The last stanza celebrates the return of sunshine, and the women’s renewed delight in their lives:


How it shone
When we went from Flintcomb-Ash
To start at dairywork once more
In the laughing meads, with cows threescore,
And pails, and songs, and love - too rash;
How it shone!

 

Agricola, December 2021