Film Review – Far from the Madding Crowd (Second Take)

Film Review – Far from the Madding Crowd (Second Take)

Far from the Madding Crowd

Far from the Madding Crowd

Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd may not be a classic novel you have heard of before. I was a bit thrown when I saw the first trailer for the film adaptation and somehow it had not been on my radar. Classic literature, those novels by Charles Dickens, Jane Austen, Charlotte and Emily Brontë, and other, are always interesting to see in newest film or television form. Some interpretations have become modernized, adapted to the current time, but those truest to the novels will always be the best form of flattery to the authors.

A 1998 TV movie, 1967 film, a two other film from the early 1900s are the only adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd. This 2015 adaptation directed by Thomas Vinterburg (The Hunt) and written by David Nicholls (Tess of the D’Urbervilles, 1998), stars Carey Mulligan as the central character of Bathsheba Everdene. Set in 1870 Dorset, England, Bathsheba is poor, lost her parents when she was a baby, and relies upon her relatives for support. The film opens on Bathsheba explaining her circumstances and telling of her current situation, staying with her aunt while helping out on her farm.  Almost immediately, you know she is unlike any other conventional woman of that time. She is independent and is not out for a husband just for the sake of being married. Her first suitor is a farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), whom Bathsheba meets while in staying with her aunt. Although he is in better circumstances than her, she rejects his proposal because she simply does not want to be married.

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Bathsheba’s luck changes as her uncle dies and leaves her everything. She leaves for his farm and is determined to raise the farm back to glory as its mistress, with no master. Oak has a change in circumstance as well; he loses his sheep in a tragic accident and ends up in Bathsheba’s employ. Two more suitors enter the game for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage, well-off William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge). With three suitors at her doorstep, Bathsheba struggles to maintain her independence and not fall in love.

The film is utterly beautiful, primarily due to the lighting of the film. It is basked in the light of a setting sun, making its outdoor scenes full of orange and red hues. The English rural landscape is a character of its own. The rolling hills, the stately residences, and the livestock all contribute to the beauty. Far from the Madding Crowd is not a title chosen at random as the setting is 200 miles from London. It is secluded from the influence of a large city, but Bathsheba is still criticized by the local businessmen for running her own farm.

This film is timely considering the rise in the word “feminism” in our popular culture and news over the past couple of years. Bathsheba thwarts what a woman was supposed to be like in that time. She is controlling her own destiny and is not dependent on a man for her comfort or standing. Her stroke of luck makes her resolve to stay unmarried even more poignant. But like all of us, both male and females, she has weaknesses and one of those is falling for a man even though she had no intentions of ever doing such a thing. Her heart is not made of steel, and the complimenting words of a handsome man have a weakening effect. Through this weakness, Bathsheba finds happiness, love, but it eventually ruins her life. It makes me think about Thomas Hardy’s intentions for his book. It is a love story, but that is secondary to the woman that Bathsheba is. Regardless, Hardy was beyond his time in writing such a female character.

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Carey Mulligan is a vet of these period dramas, breaking into the acting with Pride & Prejudice (2005) and also starring in Bleak House (2005) and Northanger Abbey (2007). She brings a sweetness to Bathsheba, but still has the determination and fortitude to pull off a character such as hers. Matthias Schoenaerts (Bullhead, Rust and Bone) takes on a period character such as Gabriel Oak with a quiet pride. He has to be able to maintain his dignity due to his change in fortune while working for someone who thwarted his marriage proposal. Schoenaerts’ Oak is not one who seems sheepish (no pun intended) or content to walk away with his tail in between his legs. He is a good man and his contant but respectful love for Bathsheba is always there.

I have not loved a period, classic literature adaptation like Far from the Madding Crowd since 2005’s Pride & Prejudice. The story is poignant to these modern times, with a fiercely independent woman. Love is a central theme in the film, but it is not the goal. This is a special film with poignant performances and is stunningly shot with rich landscapes. Quite simply, it is a beautiful adaptation that should not be missed.

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