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Far from the Madding Crowd

What She said:

She

Last Sunday, on a notably hazy, hot, and humid afternoon, I decided to haul it down to my local small-scale cinema and go see Far from the Madding Crowd. The film is based on an 1874 Thomas Hardy novel of the same name and basically was made for me to love, and for The He to hate. It’s no shocker, then, that I point out that The He will not be contributing to this review. I mulled over forcing him to come with me, and he seemed like a willing participant, but alas, I knew he would despise the film and so I figured I’d save us both the money. Far from the Madding Crowd screams period romance—lots of longing stares, but also betrayal, misunderstandings, poor communication, and the strict adherence to societal norms, no matter how much misery they induce. For all those reasons, I thought it was simply amazing. For all those same reasons, plus the “funny way they talk,” The He would have walked out of the theater.

Far from the Madding Crowd

So, let me tell you a little about the film. The movie takes place in Victorian era England. The country is still ruled by a strong class system that keeps everyone in their places. But the class system also means that it’s difficult for anyone to move up. We’re introduced to Bathsheba Everdene (try saying that 10 times quickly), played by the adorable Carey Mulligan. Bathsheba is not your typical lady. Although she has be privileged to a good education, she was not able to pursue her pre-destined career as a governess because she was too wild. She is headstrong, self-righteous, and does not believe that her actions should be dictated by others, especially men.

Bathsheba visits her aunt for the summer. There, she is introduced to Gabriel Oak, the handsome and loyal farmer who tends the land adjacent to Bathsheba’s aunt. Gabriel is slowly making his way, tending sheep and turning over money so that he can pay off his loans and gain footing for himself. He is immediately smitten with Bathsheba and asks her to marry him. They are a good match—she has the education but no employment, and he has a good job and future established. But Bathsheba, despite having obvious feelings for Gabriel, cannot be tamed. She doesn’t want to just be someone’s wife, and so she turns down his offer.

Fate is not on Gabriel’s side. The loss of his sheep herd leaves him in financial ruin. Fate is instead very much on Bathsheba’s side, as she learns that her now deceased uncle has left her his farming enterprise. She immediately has stature within society and leaves to take on her uncle’s work. Of course, this is not easy. Farming is an industry dominated by men, and so she is ignored by others and has trouble controlling her workers. As fate would have it, Gabriel, who is now roaming town searching for employment comes upon the farm and is immediately hired by Bathsheba. He can provide the leadership and experience that her farm is sorely lacking. The tables have turned on the two, as he is now clearly submissive to her in the pecking order of things.

Bathsheba is enjoying her new independence as a landowner and established woman. It doesn’t take long for her to begin drawing the suitors. She accidentally reels in neighbor and wealthy estate owner, William Boldwood. William is an older ‘gent who was jilted by a woman in the past and left heartbroken. He lives by himself, is a little grumpy, and seems to have sworn off women. However, Bathsheba reignites a passion within him, and he asks for her hand in marriage. Bathsheba is embarrassed but is still somewhat reckless, declining William’s offer, but leaving the door open for him to continue to obsess over her. She swears she will never marry, as it is something that does not interest her, nor is it something that she really needs.

And then she meets Sergeant Frank Troy. Frank is a soldier who is struggling to move beyond his own heartbreak. He was supposed to marry Fanny Robin, but she didn’t show up on their wedding day. It turned out to be a total miscommunication (she went to the wrong church) but Frank was never made fully aware of this. He is irresponsible, arrogant, and reckless—basically your stereotypical military man from back in those days. Frank seems amused by Bathsheba and aims to whisk her off her feet, which he’s actually very successful at. Against her better sense, Bathsheba marries Frank on a whim, breaking the hearts of Gabriel and William. She nearly immediately regrets her decision. Frank is a gambler who quickly runs through Bathsheba’s money, and there is concern that she could lose her farm.

Bathsheba’s life spirals into one of sorrow. It has changed exponentially from when we first met her at the start of the film. The question is, can she avoid financial ruin and bring joy back into her life? You’ll have to watch the movie to find out. There are so many twists and turns in the final stages of the film, it’s absolutely mind blowing. People die, people come back from the dead, there are multiple proposals, and it’s unclear if we’ll even end up with a happy ending. It’s totally out there and irrational, and totally wonderful!

As you can tell, I loved this movie. I had been wanting to see it since its initial release, but didn’t really want to go to the theater by myself. When it came to my local tiny, one-screen theater I figured it was fate. Me, about 15 old ladies, and two of their husbands were so fortunate to catch the Sunday afternoon show. Far from the Madding Crowd is a period film in all its glory. The storyline is totally contrived, but it’s filled with excessive drama, fancy costumes, and plot twists that will keep you guessing. I’m actually curious to read the Thomas Hardy book, as I know that there are some general plot differences between the novel and this adaptation.

I think the acting was quite good in this film. Bathsheba is played but the captivating Carey Mulligan. She’s very good in the role, giving the character depth and complexity. Bathsheba is not just a pretty face. Yes, she has a cute smirk and dimples, but she’s someone who is damaged by her pride and overinflated self-worth. She’s a feminist during a time when feminism was sure to ruin you. She’s driven to the point of being flawed, losing the ability to recognize what is most important to her and taking too much for granted. However, even with her many flaws, Bathsheba is not unlikable. While she seldom acknowledges her downfalls, she does come to realize that she’s made mistakes.

Far from the Madding Crowd

The chemistry between Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts, who plays Gabriel, is palpable—almost magnetic. And that was essential to making this film work. Afterall, at its core, it’s simply a love story about Bathsheba and Gabriel. Everyone else, even William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) are peripheral and meant simply to supplement the evolving relationship between our two main characters. Schoenaerts does a good job of showing Gabriel as longing for Bathsheba, yet bound by the limitations imposed by society, and he pulled it off not in a creepy way. There are plenty of stares and knowing glances, but they’re not pervy, which is sadly common in romance movies. Michael Sheen does the same, but he’s much, much creepier, and for good reason. William’s character is totally unhinged. Speaking of unhinged, Tom Sturridge did a respectable job of playing the completely irrational Frank. He derived his charm from being unconventional and spoiled, and I can see why it worked for Bathsheba, even though most women would know the wiser.

Like many British period films, Far from the Madding Crowd takes advantage of the beautiful country scenery in which it was shot. There are many panoramic shots of the sprawling fields, and it helps to make the setting feel very genuine. The camera work was good, colors rich, and the costumes were true to the time period. I always love seeing how dolled up everyone was back then, knowing in the back of my mind that they may have looked good, but I’m sure they didn’t smell so great. I also had to marvel in just how tiny they managed to squeeze Mulligan’s waist. Thank goodness corsets are no longer mainstream today.

Anyway, Far from the Madding Crowd is marked by good performances and tells a story that is genuinely interesting. It’s beautifully shot and was easy to watch. It may not be one of those movies that I watch over and over, but it still is worthy of a splurge or a rental when that becomes available.

Thumbs up.

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