A visually sweeping story of a young woman's independence
From the director of the Academy Award-nominated The Hunt, Thomas Vinterberg’s recent adaptation of Far From the Madding Crowd succeeds in perpetuating the prestige and history of the English period drama.Based upon the classic novel of the same name by Thomas Hardy, the film visually conveys the story of a young, independent woman who comes into her inheritance and is thrust into the paths of three eligible men of differing temperaments and classes. Miss Bathsheba Everdene (Academy Award nominee, Carey Mulligan) must navigate her times and the choices laid out before her in terms of what is right and what her heart dictates. The strong female lead in period drama is nothing new and perhaps that’s what has its viewership coming back for more.There is an undeniable appeal to women resigned to their limited roles within societies of the past, but still yearning to be and do more with their lives than accepted. Catering to a timeless condition, it’s a state most can relate to. Aspirations realised through stories tend to be safe and enjoyable, and stories deemed classics tend to have more critical weight because of their cultural status. Far From the Madding Crowd honours this tradition portraying a beautifully crafted and dissonant picture of Hardy’s main character.
Carey Mulligan succeeds in her likeness of Bathsheba as a fiercely independent woman who values and appreciates her freedom and lack of attachment. As morals go, Mulligan’s portrayal suggests a woman should be comfortable in her own skin and only willing to enter into matrimony when she finds someone capable of taming her wildness.
Mr Gabriel Oak, her first love interest, played by Matthias Schoenaerts (A Little Chaos), proposes marriage shortly after meeting Miss Everdene on his own small farm. A tragic incident brings Gabriel low and in desperate need of work. With their stations and roles being reversed upon Bathsheba’s inheritance of her uncle’s farm, she is unwilling to consider Mr Oak as a potential husband, even considering her marked fondness for him. She makes a point of reminding Gabriel she is the mistress of the estate, and he makes a point of reminding her his fortunes will change, and he will leave her one day.
The relationship between Bathsheba and Gabriel is understated and supportive, despite Bathsheba’s stubbornness. Gabriel himself is a strong character and makes no effort to hide his affection for Miss Everdene, displaying his loyalty through dedication, hard labour, and consistency. He is a constant, a safe place, for Bathsheba. The story poses the question of human nature and taking for granted what is right in front of us, simply because our pride tends to get in the way of what is truly good for us.
The second attachment formed by Bathsheba is accidental and with her neighbor and gentleman farmer, Mr Boldwood (Michael Sheen). Through a self-described impetuous valentine sent as the result of a bet with her companion, Bathsheba ignites a long-deadened desire in Mr Boldwood, the desire to marry. Again, Miss Everdene finds she does not return fully the affections of her suitor and politely (if not uncomfortably) declines the offer of marriage by Boldwood. Disturbed by past events, William Boldwood is clearly edgy and one disaster away from emotional ruin. Bathsheba senses this, and her motivation is purely out of respect and pity.
Carey Mulligan's Bathsheba must navigate her times and the choices laid out before her in terms of what is right and what her heart dictates.
Her third and blinding attraction takes form in Tom Sturridge’s Sergeant Frank Troy. A man seemingly “jilted” by his betrothed, Sergeant Troy is on a modern-day rebound when he meets the beautiful and wealthy, not to mention single, mistress of Weatherbury Farms. With many thanks to the sergeant’s classic and convincing display of swordsmanship, Bathsheba is unable to suppress her excitement at his proposal. He is all passion and risk, and impulsivity gets the better of her. Mulligan’s vacillating approaches to the individuality of Miss Everdene reflect not only the literary nature but the truth of a woman’s conflicted heart when confronted with such varying personalities, all vying for the same hand and offering such opposing futures.
All three leading men represent different priorities. Gabriel is steady and unmoveable. Mr Boldwood represents stability and preservation of tradition, whilst Sgt Troy symbolises reckless abandon and emotional intoxication. Unfortunately for the film, three leading men, whilst an interesting prospect, does not allow for in-depth knowledge of each of the characters’ feelings. The chief cinematic tool used to convey their attachments was “the gaze”, i.e. relatively long, close-up shots cutting between Bathsheba and her suitors.
Vinterberg’s film is almost an hour shorter than the 1967 film version, which thus had a great deal more time to explore the character motivations. Regardless, the originality and timelessness of Hardy’s first literary success does shine through the temporal order of cinematographer Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s vision. Wide, sweeping landscape shots not only ground us in the picturesque world of Hardy’s Dorset, but also serve to communicate freedom at the beginning of the film. Towards the climax of the film, it seems to be a means of conveying the confines of Bathsheba’s choices.
“What should I do?”
“Do what is right.”
This is the line Gabriel uses when posed with Bathsheba’s question regarding her decision to marry or reject Mr Boldwood a second time. Far from the madding Crowd asks this consistently and subjectively. But objectively, this question is asked and answered hundreds of times every day. Is there a right answer to the question? One might venture the answer is as subjective as the individual. Do that which makes you happy, but also consider the consequences. And maybe in the end, if you’ve got a bit of luck left, you’ll end up realizing the best answer to the question was right in front of you.
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