It's raining here in Leicestershire, and also a handful of miles away across the fields in Rutland. And then, staring out of the window at the rain I had my first tangible thought of the day. It's twenty years since I produced my first book. Rutland was going to be given its county status back, and my friend Anthony Unsworth and I decided to celebrate it with the smallest book on the smallest county. We were either sitting in our office overlooking Kensington High Street or sitting round the corner in the Scarsdale Arms in Edwardes Square (probably the latter) and we agreed that I should disappear up the A1 and take photographs. It was a dry summer, and the Rutland soil was parched, but I persevered and after days in the heat and nights in the pub I finally finished. At this time I'd only written advertising copy and excruciating love letters, so we decided to give Faber & Faber some money and use W.G.Hoskins' inimitable introduction from the Shell Guide to Rutland and, from the same rare volume, a piece called 'Time Off In Rutland' which said that Tixover churchyard was a good place for an afternoon doze. It was.
When it was printed we loaded up our cars and went around all the local bookshops flogging them in boxes of 10 that doubled-up as counter displays. This is where we both learnt the vicissitudes of the sharp end of bookselling, but, as far as I know we did sell all the copies one way or another. These were halcyon days, and I'll always be grateful for the break it gave me in being asked to do more books. It makes such a difference when pitching an idea to have something tangible to wave about in meetings. So enormous thanks to Val Horsler at English Heritage and David Campbell at Everyman, both of whom also believed I could write as well as take pictures. The latter and I are currently ensconced in producing another book together, more of which later. And it looks like it's going to stop raining soon.
We knew it was going to be a hard act to follow, but we didn't think the plot would be altered to be about people fleeing London to avoid the attentions of a particularly raucous corvidae corvus. But settled in our extraordinarily expensive seats in the local Odeon (shows how often I go) we soon realised that yes, it was another adaption of Thomas Hardy's classic novel set in 1870s Dorset. And of course John Schlesinger's 1967 film is indeed a very hard act to follow. So how did Thomas Vinterberg do? Well, very creditably considering he only had I hour 59 minutes in which to tell this sprawling majestic tale and Schlesinger had the luxury and money to reach 2 hours 50 minutes. Which meant that much of importance had to be left at the side of a bleak Dorset trackway. Poor Fanny Robin hardly had the time to become a Hardy victim of circumstance, but we still booed her beau Sergeant Troy, a first class Victorian villain played up to the sword hilt by Tom Sturridge. Belgian Matthias Schoenaerts abandoned trying to do a convincing Wessex accent (it didn't matter), and Michael Sheen's Boldwood had suitable if wingeing gravitas. But you'll have guessed it's Carey Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene that now has a starring role in my Unmitigated Fantasy of sheep shearing, singing, harvesting and heartbreaking in Victorian Dorset. And I have another heroine in the line-up for Unmitigated Honours, and that's cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christiansen. This film is ravishing to look at, a very worthy companion to Nick Roeg's photography back in 1967.
So, apart from the obvious yawning gaps in the narrative, Boldwood's completely over-the-top 'farmhouse' (Claydon House in Buckinghamshire, oddly) and a farmyard well that looks like it's just been dusted-off from the prop store, this is a superbly watchable film. And as Deborah Ross quite rightly said in her Spectator review 'Crowd Pleaser' (2 May): "...can someone not have another go, even after nearly half a century? And why do they have to be in competition? Can't they co-exist?".
I was 19 when I first saw the original (the second actually, the first being a silent film of 1915), and afterwards I made a point of reading everything I could lay my hands on by Hardy, without any real disappointment except in what happened to Jude's children and Tess. So if any 19 year olds can unglue their smart phones from their faces for just under 2 hours and decide as a result that they'd like to read the book and its companions, then it would all be even more worthwhile. Bring me my heavy woollen coat and gaitered boots....
I am a designer, writer and photographer who spends all his time looking at England, particularly buildings and the countryside. But I have a leaning towards the slightly odd and neglected, the unsung elements that make England such an interesting place to live in. I am the author and photographer of over 25 books, in particular Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2006), More from Unmitigated England (Adelphi 2007), Cross Country (Wiley 2011), The Cigarette Papers (Frances Lincoln 2012), Preposterous Erections (Frances Lincoln 2012) and English Allsorts (Adelphi 2015)