John Schlesinger's surprisingly dull three-hour epic "Far From the Madding Crowd" is not so much a movie as a TV mini-series. It is grandly majestic in its look but puny in its content and perspective.
Just because something is filmed in wide-screen Cinemascope and covers a long chronological period doesn't mean it is broad in perspective. "Madding" has the look of a grand epic but the content of a soap opera. The Thomas Hardy novel upon which it is based must have some depth. But Schlesinger ends up providing the appearance of depth more than the real thing. His actors, who are almost absurdly talented, give a lot of meaningful looks, but they have little to say that is interesting.
Almost everyone from England's 1960s acting royalty is represented here, including Julie Christie, Terence Stamp, Alan Bates and Peter Finch. But great actors cannot do much more than look regal when all they have is soap opera to play. This is the downfall of British television in general: almost without fail it puts aristocratic actors into petit-bourgeois soap opera.
The film Schlesinger made after this, "Midnight Cowboy" (1969), is so much better than "Madding" that it's almost surreal. How could the same person direct these two films in the span of a few years? Amazing.
(Incidentally, I still don't know what the hell "madding" means. Also incidentally, if you haven't seen "Midnight Cowboy," you are missing out on something extraordinary.)