Far from the Madding Crowd, 2015.
Directed by Thomas Vinterberg.
Starring Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple and Jessica Barden.
In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
The story is (by now) borderline cliché: free-spirited Bathsheba Everdene scorns women who fall for the first pretty boy to wink at them, and vows to never be like them. Yet as fate would have it, she meets the right kind of pretty boy, and makes the wrong choice (twice) and pays for it, only to realise that the person she’s always loved has been right there all along. Cue sweeping violins, magnificent outdoor shots of Dorset, and a happy ending. If Bathsheba reminds you a bit of Katniss Everdeen of Hunger Games fame, that’s because Suzanne Collins was so inspired by her that she named Katniss in tribute (…pun not intended).
We might dismiss this kind of story now as painfully cliché and melodramatic, but it’s vital to remember that Hardy’s iconic 1874 novel was among the first to feature such a strong female character at the epicentre. Bathsheba’s famous line “It is difficult for a woman to define her feelings in language which is chiefly made by men to express theirs” is lifted straight from the page and onto the screen, and it is precisely this sort of attitude that drives the lead character to define herself on her own rather than attaching herself to a husband who might only attempt to limit and control her.
When Gabriel Oak, the strong and silent shepherd from the farm next door, asks her hand in marriage, she assumes he’ll resent her for being too independent, and so refuses. Before she’s had time to rethink, Oak loses his farm in a freak accident involving a restless shepherd dog, a cliff, and 200 dead sheep on a beach at sunrise (yes, really, and it’s a really sad scene, at that) so he moves away.
By this point Bathsheba has inherited a farm of her own, and when she moves there she finds Oak, who saved the barn from burning on his travels and then kind of… stayed. He becomes her friend and confidant, watching as she’s proposed to by middle-aged bachelor William Boldwood, played with utmost sincerity by a fantastic Michael Sheen. Boldwood’s feelings result from a prank, when Bathsheba sends him a Valentine’s card in a half-joke, but he is decidedly (and most vulnerably) serious, obviously having been brokenhearted before.
Cue the heartthrob, Sergeant Frank Troy, who comes and sweeps Bathsheba off her feet with his red soldier’s uniform and an absolutely abysmal (yet period-accurate) moustache. All other men obviously need not apply, and Bathsheba becomes what she always laughed at: a giggling girl so entranced by this handsome man that upon first mention of marriage, she says yes. The mistake will haunt her, in more ways than one, and even though somehow through all this emotional entanglement the solution becomes obvious, it takes Bathsheba (and subsequently us) a long, long time to find.
Shot entirely on film in spectacularly bright Technicolor, this period romance drama has been delicately crafted to be as relatable and new as it can be. The action has been shifted forward a couple of decades so the costumes are not the frilly and grey dresses one might picture in a typical Victorian-era-set film. The colours pop in every shot, be it a pastoral English countryside landscape or an indoor close-up under candlelight. The Victorian morals of it all are hardly mentioned, despite the fact that the film’s entire conflict stems from the fact that in those days one couldn’t date without tying the knot. By focusing entirely on the characters, and on the secluding atmosphere created by the vast expanse of farmland that surrounds them, the era actually becomes irrelevant and gives way to pure story.
At the core of it, it is an 18th century novel translated into picture. You can actually see Hardy’s beautiful writing in the cinematography, the performances, the sets and costumes. Craig Armstrong’s beautiful score carries the independent and fierce spirit of Bathsheba throughout the film.
If you like period dramas, definitely give this a go. If you don’t, give it a chance–and be sure to read our upcoming interview with director Thomas Vinterberg for insight on the score, cinematography and performances that make this film worth watching.
Flickering Myth Rating – Film: ★ ★ ★ ★ / Movie: ★ ★ ★
Kat Kourbeti – Follow me on Twitter.