The Movie “Far From the Madding Crowd.” My rating: 5 stars out of 5.
Genre: Drama, romance
Directed by: Thomas Vinterberg
Cinematography: Charlotte Bruus Christensen
Written by: Thomas Hardy with screenplay by David Nicholls
Release Date: May 1, 2015
This is a review of the movie Far from the Madding Crowd, which I saw for the first time last night at our local theater. Although based on the book written by Thomas Hardy back in 1874, this period drama has a surprisingly modern appeal, and it is jam-packed with irony from every direction you look.
Much of this movie’s appeal is in its main character Bathsheba Everdene, brilliantly played by British actress Carey Mulligan. Mulligan portrays a young and highly independent woman, full of spunk and vigor, in rural Victorian England. Yes, the movie Far from the Madding Crowd is also a love story, involving three suitors, but it is Bathsheba’s strength and determination, in spite of her missteps, that really drives this film. A note to present-day girls and women: this is a film worth seeing.
Combine Bathsheba’s feisty independence with the fact that she has three very different suitors, each of whom wishes to marry her, along with the fact that Bathsheba inherits a farm so that she has the luxury not to marry, and you have the makings for a modern-day love quadrangle, with a strong-willed woman at the center. You have to wonder what in the world Hardy’s readers thought when they first read Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd back in 1874; it was his fourth novel and his first successful novel, by the way.
This film is set in Hardy’s era of the 1870s in a rural area in England, where the rolling green hills of farms, the nearby ocean and the sheep and the livestock provide an idyllic backdrop for this unfolding drama.
The attention to the practical period costume design by Janet Patterson, the cinematography of Charlotte Bruus Christensen, and the well-edited dialogue all add up to make this feel not as much a period piece, but rather a story that is very real and palpable, that any modern-day viewer can relate to.
Not that the movie Far from the Madding Crowd isn’t romantic, dreamy and beautiful as well…there are those very memorable scenes of Bathsheba on her horse running full-out across the green fields in her enviable leather riding outfit, the scene of Bathsheba in a magical-looking forest with a carpet of ferns at her feet, the scene of Bathsheba and two of her suitors at a festive lantern-lit supper, beautiful ballads being sung at the table.
There’s a lot of irony going on here. Take, for instance, the title itself Far from the Madding Crowd. To be “far from the madding crowd” is to be removed, either literally or figuratively, from the “frenzied” actions of a crowd or the bustle of civilization. What should be a quiet and simple life in rural England at that time proves to be anything but. Rather, the green and lush fields seem to be a steamy backdrop for constant tumult, not only in the various interactions between these different characters, but also inside the troubled heads and hearts of these same characters.
And then there’s the irony of Bathsheba Everdene’s name. If you look at the bible’s Bathsheba, that woman also was in the midst of a lot of “frenzy” going on between her and the men in her life–King David impregnates his soldier Uriah’s wife Bathsheba, and later has Uriah killed. David then takes Bathsheba as his own wife. It’s difficult to tell if the bible’s Bathsheba was a victim of rape or whether she too was guilty of adultery…either way, it’s very understandable when Hardy’s Bathsheba says at the beginning of the movie Far from the Madding Crowd that she hated her name, that it sounded wrong when said aloud, like it belonged to someone else. And without giving away any spoilers, there are other commonalities between the bible’s Bathsheba and Hardy’s Bathsheba. To me, the name Bathsheba sounds foreign and exotic, and I think quite suitable for the intriguing woman portrayed by Hardy and in this film. Oh yes, and then there’s the added irony of the last name borrowed from Hardy’s character for the strong character Katniss in “The Hunger Games” trilogy, but spelled “Everdeen”.
The ironies in the various intertwined relationships in the movie Far from the Madding Crowd never seem to stop. For instance, the one suitor who ultimately cares for Bathsheba the least seemingly has the most control over Bathsheba; this is in contrast to another suitor who desires Bathsheba to the point of admitting that he cares not if she is attracted to him, that he only wishes to “protect” her.
Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak share the most time on screen together, and I find their relationship fascinating. There’s one scene where she runs after Oak for help to save her bloated sheep, shortly after she impulsively has sent him away. Oak agrees to return, but when he gets up and walks past Bathsheba, he gently but purposely knocks his shoulder against hers—it’s an aggressive and pissed-off gesture, but affectionate and familiar, all at the same time, and Bathsheba grins to herself, seeming to understand. This one scene, to me, sums up so much of how Bathsheba and Oak relate to each other in this film.
The actors seem to have been born for the parts they play in Far from the Madding Crowd. Mulligan pulls off the role of Bathsheba beautifully, with a spunkiness, an athleticism, a spark, a wit and humor that make her perfectly cast for this part. Honestly, I could not get enough of Mulligan…she carries the weight of this film, and I think today’s girls and women can take away not only something from the character that Mulligan plays, but also from the superb way that Mulligan the actress handles her craft in this starring role.
And who can forget the actor Matthias Shoenaerts, the Belgian actor who plays Gabriel Oak? He’s one of Bathsheba’s suitors, but he’s also her quiet and sturdy (yes, like an oak tree) friend and guide, her moral compass, her silent cheerleader, the one person to whom she can always turn. At the same time, Gabriel never cows to her, and tells her at one point, “I’m not going to tell stories just to please you. Be sure of that.” Shoenaerts is handsome enough and holds himself in way that you feel the character he portrays truly is a contemplative and introspective soul.
I prefer not to write about the character Sgt. Frank Troy, played by Tom Sturridge, only because I disliked his character so much, and so kudos to Sturridge for doing such a great job.
Without giving away any spoilers, I think that in many ways, Lord Boldwood, portrayed by Michael Sheen, affects Bathsheba’s fate more than anyone. Again, the irony…
Although the movie Far From the Madding Crowd is about two hours long, it doesn’t seem so. Not quite “frenzied,” the pace of this film is brisk, so that I stayed completely engaged throughout. Under the direction of Thomas Vinterberg, despite its period of time and place of setting, Far from the Madding Crowd is a movie with intensity from beginning to end. And there’s humor here! It’s not all dark and dramatic and heart-wrenching. That humor and occasional light irony make Bathsheba and those who surround her all the more touchable, likeable and real.
Another scene I love is when Bathsheba quietly but firmly announces to the farm workers after she takes over the struggling farm she has inherited from her uncle, “From now on, you have a mistress, not a master.” This is, by the way, in the presence of one of her suitors, whom she has already refused an offer of marriage. And although Bathsheba is the mistress, she is no slouch as to working the farm, and seems to do it all. You see her working at the workers’ side, pitchfork in hand, so tired at night that she falls into bed too exhausted to take off her shoes. Another time, she is at the market, the only woman amongst the men, haggling on the price of the grain she wishes to sell. And yet another time, speaking with her wealthy neighbor about the business of marriage.
The interactions between these characters are intriguing on so many levels, and are amplified by the fact that Bathsheba, although fiercely independent and headstrong, like many women today, still needs love and companionship. That need is tempered by Bathsheba’s fear that succumbing to love and companionship will cause her to forfeit the very independence that makes her so strong, so unique, that makes her who she is. It was tricky for Bathsheba then, and it’s still tricky for girls and women now.
Some of my favorite quotes from Far from the Madding Crowd:
“It is difficult for a woman to express her feelings,” Bathsheba says at one point, “in a language chiefly created by men to express theirs.” What an interesting quote, coming from Hardy, a male writer.
“I’m too independent for you!” Bathsheba says when refusing a marriage offer. “If I were to marry, I’d want someone to tame me, and you’d never be able to do it.”
When addressing her farm workers for the first time, Bathsheba stands and declares, “It is my intent to astonish you all.” The movie Far from the Madding Crowd and its resilient character Bathsheba astonished me indeed.
Be sure to see this one.
My rating: 5 stars out of 5.