New Movies: Vivid Victoriana

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With Far from the Madding Crowd, Schlesinger and Raphael have become one of the film world's most adventurous new director-writer teams since Billy Wilder met I.A.L. Diamond. This is the more remarkable since their first collaboration, on Darling, was about as amiable as a guerrilla battle. Although the film eventually won three Oscars and made Julie Christie a major star, its director and writer disagreed so violently about the script that at one point they were not speaking. After 18 months of quarreling, Raphael flew off to Rome to begin a novel, returned to London only after a series of pleading phone calls from Schlesinger.

By temperament, they are unlikely partners. Affable but harddriving, Schlesinger, 41, first started acting at Oxford, later became a television producer before moving on to films. He has been known to swear at his leading ladies—"and still does," says Christie. He has strong, sardonic opinions about cameramen ("as a race, pretty square") and actors ("seldom intelligent people"). Cambridge-educated Frederic Raphael, 36, is a quiet, introspective novelist who also earned his living in television, as a script writer, until he scored a movie success with his work on 1964's Nothing But the Best, a cheeky satire about a lowborn Londoner on the social climb. Although their Oxbridge education presumably included a glimpse at some of Hardy's work, they discovered Far from the Madding Crowd only when a cameraman gave them a copy during the shooting of Darling.

Schlesinger compares the process of collaboration to a tennis match, in which writer and director strain to return each other's ideas successfully. The rules of their game, however, are loose enough to let them try a few sets with others. Raphael wrote Two for the Road for Producer Stanley Donen; Schlesinger also plans to do his next film with a different writer. But at least until the next quarrel, their partnership is a going concern; in the works are a film biography of Lord Byron and, possibly, a cinema version of A Severed Head, by Iris Murdoch—whose modern, mordant wit and bitchiness seem more in the partners' line than Hardy's gloomy romanticism.

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