Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: David Nicholls
Reviewing an adaptation of a famous novel is always a bit weird, especially if it’s a classic. As someone who has never read Thomas Hardy’s novel and who has never watched any of its previous adaptations, I find myself in an uncertain position. On the one hand I was able to watch this film without any preconceived notions and therefore should be able to judge it based on its own merits. On the other hand reading the original source material would doubtless have provided me with an insight into what kind of film Vinterberg and Nicholls were trying to make. I’m not sure which would be worse; reviewing this film without enlightening myself on the actual themes and ideals it is trying to capture, or holding this film to a standard set by the source material rather than by its own standards. Is it fair for me to criticise Baz Luhrmann’s The Great Gatsby for missing the point of Fitzgerald’s novel even if not everyone in the audience will have necessarily read it? Am I a hypocrite if I say that the books don’t matter when reviewing something like the Harry Potter series but then say that they do when reviewing a film like Jane Eyre? Am I expected to familiarise myself with the themes, story and characters of Madame Bovary in order to develop an informed judgement of Sophie Barthes’ upcoming adaptation? I’m not sure if there is a simple answer to these questions. The question of the adaptation has always seemed like a grey area to me so I think I’ll have to proceed cautiously, share my own personal experience of this film, and hope that my ignorance does not prove to be a burden.
The protagonist of Far from the Madding Crowd is Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan), the headstrong farmer with a fierce will who prides herself on her self-reliance and independence. When she inherits a wealthy and prosperous farm, she shows absolutely no intention of settling down to enjoy a life of comfort and leisure. She instead intends to remain in the thick of it and run her farm herself. Over the course of the film she attracts the attention of three vastly different suitors who offer three vastly different lives for her. There is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), the humble sheep farmer who promises her a quiet but fulfilling life; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), the wealthy landowner who promises her a life of security and comfort; and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), the handsome sergeant who promises her a life of excitement and adventure. Bathsheba is a woman who has never dreamed of settling down and has no desire to be tamed by a husband. However the advances of these three men awaken feelings of passion and ambivalence within her as she is faced with the agonies of choice and of her own conflicted feelings.
Carey Mulligan was born to do period dramas and is on top form as the indomitable Bathsheba. She brings a lot of spirit to the role of a woman who defies the conventions of what a Victorian woman was expected to be. Bathsheba refuses to define or measure herself by other peoples’ standards, she isn’t afraid to get her hands dirty, and she harbours a passionate and spirited nature that cannot be tempered. However her pride proves to be as much of a weakness as it is a strength as she finds herself unprepared for the effects that falling in love would prove to have on her will and judgement. Over the course of her romantic journey she does make mistakes and she does get hurt, but through it all she never allows these adversities to defeat her. Her character displays a strong sense of resilience and determination as she grows and learns more about herself and about the nature of love.
The three men of Bathsheba’s life are all portrayed impeccably by their actors and each one of them forms a compelling bond with her. Oak is a humble, soft-spoken man with a quiet dignity about him. He is the one out of the suitors who is most like Bathsheba and who understands her best, but he also understands that she is of a higher and nobler class than him and has resigned himself to the prospect of being nothing more than her faithful farmhand. Boldwood is a reclusive man who at first appears devoid of feeling. The beauty and kindness of Bathsheba awakens a romantic temperament that he had either lost or repressed long ago and he becomes determined to win her heart. Troy is a dashing, reckless soldier with a wild and enflamed passion that he directs towards Bathsheba. She finds herself attracted to his confidence and his daring nature and finds the danger he poses to be exhilarating. All three men bring out different sides of Bathsheba that conflict with one another as she attempts to make sense of her emotions.
The nature of love is discussed and explored by Bathsheba as she attempts to discover what exactly it is she wants. Falling in love was a prospect that she never intended to happen to her and she soon finds herself doubting and questioning her own judgement and feelings. What could easily have been a feeble tale of a woman discovering that she needs a man in her life to make her happy instead depicts a fascinating and emotional journey of romance, passion and self-discovery. As Bathsheba endures the pains, hardships and heartbreaks of love, she finds within herself the will to survive and persevere. I still don’t know whether that was the idea behind Hardy’s novel, but regardless it made for an enjoyable and emotional film with strong performances, beautiful music and stunning cinematography.