With DR ZHIVAGO/’65 completing its theatrical run at the time this came out, critics & moviegoers may have taken this film for granted. It is another plush period piece that finds Julie Christie wooed by three men: a fighter, a rich older man and a poetic soul; Terence Stamp, Peter Finch & Alan Bates, each superb.* But this John Schlesinger film, with ecstatically beautiful lensing from Nicholas Roeg and Frederic Raphael’s superbly structured script** is clearly the better film, a near-masterpiece. The Thomas Hardy novel has its full measure of tragedy, but it’s also a sweeping romantic saga of a strong-willed woman finding her place among the farm owners & sheep raising estates of Wessex. The dramatic pulse is stronger in the first half (those lost sheep; the ‘missed’ wedding ceremony, the intensely erotic sword play in the fields; whew!), but there are moments that make you catch your breath all thru the film. Unforgettable stuff, and more vital & precious now than when it was released 42 years ago.
*The respective slots in ZHIVAGO are filled by Tom Courtenay, Rod Steiger & Omar Sharif.
**1967 was Raphael’s big year with the enchantingly clever & heartfelt TWO FOR THE ROAD also coming out.