Though I haven’t read the Thomas Hardy novel on which this film was based, I have read his Tess of the D’urbervilles–so it’s safe to say I expected two hours of depression, death and woe in Far from the Madding Crowd. However, I was pleasantly surprised to find that the story was far less bleak than I anticipated, performed brilliantly by a talented set of actors, and translated to screen very effectively by Thomas Vinterberg. Perhaps most importantly, the film illuminates a woman who transcends the Victorian age in her tenacity and strength.
Carey Mulligan (The Great Gatsby, Doctor Who) shines as the main character, Miss Bathsheba Everdene (not to be confused with “the girl on fire” who is probably her descendant, Katniss Everdeen) who recently inherited her uncle’s farm. Mulligan plays Bathsheba honestly and openly, making her relatable despite what an average audience member might brush off as a typical Victorian woman with typical Victorian sentiments. But Bathsheba is certainly anything but. She spends most of the film warding off the advances of shepherd Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), farmer William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and soldier Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge). Schoenaerts plays a subdued, sincere character; Sheen is an older bachelor who makes one’s heart ache, and Sturridge does a fantastic job of playing a very emotionally unstable, yet dangerously charming sergeant. Mulligan’s chemistry with each of these actors is unique from the others, but she stands on her own just as well, portraying an independent, fierce spirit. Vinterberg’s direction really allowed for the audience to get an in-depth look at these characters and their dynamics with one another. The use of ECUs during particularly emotionally charged moments was very effective, and the use of shadows and dark colors added to the Romantic feel of the film.
I saw the film with my mother, who kept commenting throughout that Bathsheba should “just make up her mind.” And I think her reaction is exactly why a film like this needed to be made. It wasn’t that Bathsheba couldn’t decide between all her potential suitors–it’s that she wanted to have control of when she was ready to commit herself to someone. In the Victorian age, women were married off in their early teens a lot of the time, to men usually chosen by their fathers. Bathsheba displays a kind of agency that was not often publicly seen or advocated in 19th-century England, or anywhere. The fact that she couldn’t “just choose” was indicative of the idea–far-fetched for her time–that women should have been able to make up their own minds as to when they were ready to marry, and to whom. The fact that my mom couldn’t understand that was a bit off-putting–but perhaps her opinion was tied in with her expectations of what a proper Victorian woman should be and how she should act. Bathsheba defies all those stereotypes, which is what I think makes Far from the Madding Crowd such a fascinating film, based on a novel that was clearly ahead of its time, not unlike Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Bathsheba wanted to wait until she was ready for, felt deserving of, and felt her given suitor deserved, marriage. Being partial to all things Victorian, Bathsheba’s characterization is a breath of fresh air to me. Some people–men and women alike–might consider her flippant or inconsistent. Rather, it might be said Bathsheba is a woman ahead of her time in her understanding of the necessity–or lack thereof–of a husband to complete her.
The film ran a bit long, and oftentimes dealt a bit cyclically with Bathsheba’s engagement problem–but overall, it is a great trip back in time that does away with the conventionality of the typical shy, subdued, repressed Victorian woman.
Overall rating: 3.5/5