Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
When a costume drama that was made in the 90s or before gets a makeover thanks to a new adaptation, I tend to sit up and take notice. That was the case with this Thomas Hardy classic. It had previously enjoyed two better-known adaptations (60s and later, the 90s), both of which I have seen, neither of which I was 100% thrilled with. With a leading British and Hollywood star cast in this remake and a trio of newcomers in the supporting cast, this promised to be a gem. Below I attempt to sort out some of my thoughts on what turned out to be a beautiful piece of cinema.
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) has never liked her name. Yet it is the name her parent’s gave her. A young woman who has no prospects, her parent’s long gone Bathsheba resides with an elderly aunt helping in the running of her farm. The neighboring famer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) takes a liking to the independent and quirky Miss Everdene, and with his farm slowly starting to prosper, he bumbles through a marriage proposal and his prospects to the woman he loves. Following this, changes visit everyone involved. Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and comes into a small fortune, reversing the roles of her and Gabriel. Simultaneously, he loses everything when his entire sheep herd is wiped out.
As life for Bathsheba begins to flourish and she relishes her new role as mistress of her own living and destiny, Gabriel walks into her life again. Only this time, it’s as a man in need of employment. Also entering her life is her neighbor, Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an older man immediately transfixed by his beautiful neighbor. But it’s the brash soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who captures Bathsheba’s fancy. But it’s this newly formed attachment that may lead her down a path of destruction.
From my experience with Hardy (limited to cinematic), he seems to prefer walking his characters down the tragic over giving them a wittier journey as Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell were known for. Instead he joins fellow male author Charles Dickens with an eye to the tragic. I’ve seen two other films adapted from Hardy works, and as a story, this is (by far) my most favorite. I really like the characters and complexities of their personalities and journey. Given how well scripter’s manage to flesh out the characters and their respective quirks, I’d imagine the novel is even more complementary to their identities.
Since I’ve brought them up, let’s begin with the characters. Putting a female protagonist such as Bathsheba in the leading role might be tough for viewers to warm to. She’s not only a fiery independent spirit (which is all well and good) she might also come across as a kind of spiteful, wishy-washy creature. By example, she toys with the hearts of the men who wish to capture her heart. Fortunately, Carey Mulligan softens the character. She makes her easy to like if not always understand, and imbibes plenty of sass and spunk into Bathsheba. The 90s adaptation featured a much less likable female lead in my opinion. I feel like, while still a bit of a tease, she’s less about herself, and more about caring for others and the ramifications of her actions. The men are similarly complex. Of the three, I adore Gabriel; have sympathy for Boldwood and, I don’t think it’s too harsh a word to use in saying, I detest Troy. Seriously, here is a character that’s nothing if not… weird, for lack of a better term. As beautiful as the scenery may be, the “woods” scene between he and Bathsheba is abnormal.
If the characters fail you anywhere along the way, the cinematography won’t. This is one of the most beautiful period dramas I’ve seen lately. Every shot and emotion is captured (particularly the scenes of longing between one pairing) to elegant perfection. The costuming is also stunning! The woman behind them was also the costume designer for 2003’s live-action Peter Pan and the Nicole Kidman period drama, Portrait of a Lady. Looking at the “bigger” picture, this film is nothing if not gorgeous. There are lessons to be learned and taken to heart. Some are harsh and unpleasant to experience, but important nonetheless. Writer, David Nicholls (One Day, 2012’s Great Expectations) brings everything together very neatly. I loved the ending, ambiguous though it could have been, it feels especially complete and manages to infuse the moment with some playful flirting (likely I was grinning big by this time) that doubles as genuine feelings, and realizing a longing one character never confessed.
Given what I know of this story, this version does it up right. Not only does it benefit from today’s cutting edge filming technology, it seems to have finally cast the right set of stars to bring the classic piece of literature to life. Without question, this adaptation is my personal favorite. It’s as romantic as it is pretty to look at.
What about you: which adaptation of this story do you prefer? Have you seen Far from the Madding Crowd? Read the book? Share your comments down below.
(Content: there’s a minor subplot involving a man having a child out of wedlock, and a man lashes out once at his wife [verbal abuse]. Prior to marriage, a man becomes familiar with a woman, touching and groping her [while clothed]. There's one scene of a married couple in bed, non-graphic. One man is fatally shot; other than that, the film earns its rating for some thematic elements. The film is rated PG13.)