A delightful film adaptation of the classic novel by Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd. More often than not, the book is always better, but I absolutely love watching books come to life on the big screen. Often I feel disappointed with film adaptations of my favourite books, but in the case of Thomas Vinterberg’s version of Far From the Madding Crowd, I can honestly say that I loved every moment of this beautifully presented film.
I went into this film with crossed arms and a raised chin expecting to be let down. Carey Mulligan recently played two literary characters that I utterly despise – Daisy in The Great Gatsby and Isabella in Northanger Abbey, so I have quite unfairly associated Carey Mulligan with the vile characters she has portrayed. I loved her performance in Never Let Me Go and An Education, and after her portrayal of Bathsheba Everdene she has truly won me over and become one of my absolute favourite actresses. Mulligan played Bathsheba with strength, beauty, independence, stubbornness, and naivety – the perfect Hardy heroine.
Visually, the film is a masterpiece. Dramatic Dorset landscapes, a heartfelt musical score, tempestuous blustery skies, a revolving wardrobe of delightful Victorian costumes, beautifully adorned sets, sunlit green English valleys, and quaint cobble stoned villages. The cinematography and set design, particularly for the Christmas party thrown by Mr Boldwood was utterly magical and even more opulent and dazzling than I imagined reading the novel.
The three suitors: Gabriel Oak, William Boldwood, and Sergeant Frank Troy are all dashing, handsome, and extremely well cast. Without giving the game away, the chemistry between Bathsheba and her leading men was executed perfectly and I would not be giving anything away by saying that this film has a plot like a Shakespearian drama. He loves her, but she loves somebody else, hefty inheritances, fires, marriages, storms, disappearing fiancés, a love child, multiple deaths, a resurrection, and a life prison sentence. Although all is well that ends well with a hearty harvest, confessions of true love, and a happy ending.
Thomas Hardy is a captivating story teller who creates the most vivid, passionate and headstrong women. Hardy was a man of the Victorian period (1837-1901) when single women were typically typecast in one of two roles, the angelic virginal maiden or the sexualised amoral demon. Bathsheba is not a clichéd one dimensional woman. Carey Mulligan is delightfully dainty and I was unsure if she could play Bathsheba with the right amount of spunk and haughtiness. I have always loved Bathsheba as she practically steps off the page and comes to life as you read. Intelligent, beautiful, independent, headstrong and hardworking. After inheriting her Uncle’s fortune, Bathsheba is desperate to prove herself as a woman in a man’s world. Due to the social constraints of Victorian life, Bathsheba initially struggles to establish herself in the male dominated marketplace, but she remains resolute and refuses to accept anything less than her full worth.
Matthias Schoenaerts who portrays the shepherd, Gabriel Oak, was perfectly cast. You can’t help but fall in love with him as he keeps watch over Bathsheba like one of his helpless lambs. He is the epitome of masculinity, integrity, and a real gentleman in the more modern sense of the word. His eyes are the window to his soul, a quiet man whose longing stares towards Bathsheba from across the rolling green hills speak volumes about his feelings. He is a mirror that reflects Bathsheba back upon herself, but quite often she does not like what she sees and unnecessarily taking her frustrations out on poor Mr Oak.
Mr Boldwood, the second of the suitors is played by Michael Sheen. Her wealthy neighbour, a lonely solitary man whose interest in Bathsheba sparks after receiving a Valentine card from her that was intended as a cheeky gesture. Mr Boldwood romanticises the idea of Bathsheba, thinking that she will be the perfect Victorian wife who will fit nicely into his home as a cherished trophy. He bestows her with every material possession a woman could desire, only pushing Bathsheba further away and into the arms of the worst kind of man. The archetypal bad boy, Sergeant Troy, played by the very handsome Tom Sturridge, charms his way into Bathsheba’s life and virginal bed. Frivolous Troy likes to drink and gamble to the detriment of Bathsheba’s fortune and wellbeing. Caddish Sergeant Troy is irresistibly seductive at first glance, spouting romantic yet empty promises that sweep the leading lady off her feet without a single rational thought towards the long term future.
After an array of confronting events and developments, Bathsheba grows into a wiser and much more enlightened woman as a result of her experiences. Despite her beauty and femininity, Bathsheba is not afraid to climb atop a hay bale mid storm and stand up for herself. After suffering the consequences of her atrociously bad taste in men and a few wrong turns down the country lane, Bathsheba is forced to reevaluate some of her questionable life choices before finding true happiness.