Yesterday I saw the new film adaptation of the classic novel by Thomas Hardy, Far From the Madding Crowd. Let’s be honest, the book is always better than the film, but I actually love watching my favourite books come to life on the big screen. Film adaptations of books are notoriously disappointing because when we read the novel plays like a movie in our own head, we get to cast all of the characters and give depth and detail to every word, so it’s not entirely surprising that we often walk out of the cinema feeling frustrated with the casting or unexpected changes and omissions. In the case of Thomas Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd, I was engrossed in every moment of this beautiful film.
I went into this cinema with crossed arms and a raised chin expecting to be let down. Carey Mulligan has 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 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. Mulligan played Bathsheba Everdene with strength, independence, stubbornness, and naivety – the perfect Hardy heroine.
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 and cliché. Bathsheba is not just a one dimensional Victorian lady and Carey Mulligan plays 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, she is desperate to prove herself. Due to the social constraints of Victorian life, Bathsheba initially struggles to establish herself in the male-dominant marketplace, but she remains resolute and refuses to accept anything less than her full worth.
Bathsheba’s three suitors: Gabriel Oak, William Boldwood, and Frank Troy are all dashing and handsome. 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 lambs. He is the epitome of masculinity, integrity, and a real gentleman in the more modern sense of the word. A quiet man whose longing stares towards Bathsheba across the rolling green hills speak volumes of his feelings, he is strong and steady like an old tree, Oak by name and nature. He is a mirror that reflects Bathsheba back upon herself, but quite often she does not like what she sees.
Mr Boldwood, the second of the suitors, played by Michael Sheen is her wealthy neighbour, a lonely man whose interest in Bathsheba sparks after receiving a Saint 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 good-looking Tom Sturridge, charms his way into Bathsheba’s life and virginal bed. Frivolous Troy likes to drink and gamble to Bathsheba’s detriment, and while he may have been irresistibly seductive at first, spouting romantic empty promises, caddish Troy comes with serious baggage.
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 what is hers. 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.
The plot is reminiscent of a Shakespearian drama, he loves her, but she loves somebody else, 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.
Visually, the film is a masterpiece. Dramatic Dorset landscapes, a heartfelt musical score, tempestuous blustery skies, a revolving wardrobe of delightful Victorian costumes, sunlit green English valleys, and cobbled villages. This is the perfect Sunday afternoon film, snuggled up in a blanket with a roaring fire and hot pot of tea. The cinematography will whisk you away to beautiful pastoral Dorset, where you will remain until the credits roll at the finale.
You are likely to fall in love with the landscapes of Far From the Madding Crowd, which was filmed around Dorset in Southern England. This link provides an introduction to Thomas Hardy’s Dorset, which I am planning to visit very soon. Keep an eye on my travel page for some Hardy inspired scenery and literary hotspots.