Far From the Madding Crowd, 2016, 110 mins., is a film adaptation of the novel by the same name written by the Victorian poet and writer, Thomas Hardy. There are three earlier versions, the latest before this one was 1967 with Julie Christie. Hence, if you become a fan of this new one, you can veg-out on three or even four if they are available. Not having done that or, alas, read the novel, this film generated a few questions right off.
First, that his heroine is named Bathsheba made my antennae go up. Had he modeled his Bathsheba after that grand Jewish Matriarch from the Bible, I asked myself? Having conjured her up and written her memoir for my book ‘Daughters of Eve: a Herstory Book’ (Available on Amazon), I do consider myself something of an authority on her nature and I was eager to see what he had produced. I decided he simply fancied the name.
My second question is one I direct at most films or books in which the author is a man and the central figure in his story is a woman. Virginia Woolf wrote in her brilliant essay “A Room of One’s Own” that she was asked to speak at Oxford on women. She wasn’t quite sure what they wanted—Women in History, Women Writers, etc.—so she went to the library, looked up ‘women’ and found that most everything about women was written by men. Do they get us right? Take Shakespeare, for example. Would Desdemona have really allowed Othello to kill her for something she didn’t do, at least, without a fight? All right, I know there’s more to it than that, that for Shakespeare ‘the play’s the thing’ but it always bothered me that she just took it while I’m sitting there, gritting my teeth and thinking ‘kick him where it hurts and get out of there!’
For Hardy, the story is also the thing and the perfect thing for a Victorian writer where strong characters might lead to emotions that a Victorian audience would think unseemly. Bathsheba, delightfully played by Carey Mulligan, starts out strong. She inherits her uncle’s farm—a large tenant farm—and is determined to make it the best farm around. She also attracts three very different suitors: a sheep farmer, Gabriel Fox played by maddingly handsome Matthias Schoenaerts; a landed gentry and proper Victorian William Boldwood played by Michael Sheen, whose land borders hers; and a soldier scoundrel, Frank Troy, played by Tom Sturbridge. She receives proper marriage proposals from the first two and still plans to go it alone but then the soldier shows up, kisses her several times—and I do mean just several times–and she rushes off to town to marry him. A totally irrational and impetuous act, but remember, the story’s the thing.
I won’t tell you anymore because you should see it. The cinematography in the English Countryside—Dorset, I understand—is well-done and quite lovely and the whole production is charming. I recommend it—but then, I love Victorian.
PS: Our Women’s Film Club saw it in February. It was well-received.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg Written by Dave Nicholls