An energetic and wildly untameable woman rides through the sumptuous and yet broodingly dramatic rolling hills of Hardy’s Wessex, mud on her face and seemingly, not a care in world. A fine introduction to the microcosmic world of the latest adaptation of the famous and much adored classic countryside melodrama, which really does depict a life which is Far From the Madding Crowd.
Although this film centres around very few characters and one small community, there is no sense of claustrophobia but rather, a creation of desire to inhabit the countryside fantasy life we are presented with in this film. Times may be difficult in 19th- century Dorset, but there is a spirit of camaraderie and a idealisation of a life away from the City throughout the film which is heartening to watch.
True to its novelistic roots, the film is not all frolicking about the farm. Whilst life for Miss Everdene is presented as something of an idyll after the surprise inheritance of her uncle’s farm, there is, in the landscaping of the film and the use of the gathering storms which are a running motif, a darkness that builds around her struggle to be independent in a world “governed by the language of men” which could be considered a portent for other struggles Bathsheba will face both romantic and political, as she attempts to make her mark in the patriarchal society she lives in.
Bathsheba is, in Carey Mulligun’s interpretation, strong, defiant and independent. In her refusal to accept not one but three proposals of marriage, the heroine is asserted less as a foolish woman who falls on hard times and more as an early feminist who has taken action in her own life and influenced her own fate. Mulligun’s spirited delivery of the dialogue and engaging repertoire with the male leads in the film render Bathsheba an appealing and current figurehead for the empowerment of women and this makes her hardships all the more relatable to the female audience watching today. There is something so strikingly modern in the Bathsheba Everdene of this film and yet, the period feel of the piece and all the issues which were both relevant and so important for women of the time are made abundantly clear in the film’s narrative.
Far From the Madding Crowd as directed by Thomas Vinterberg is as much focused on the quandary Bathsheba faces at the prospect of proposals from three suitors as it is on the politics of being a woman in Victorian England. Mulligun presents for us a woman for whom romance is almost secondary to the need to “astonish us all” with her independence. However, as this educated orphan rises in social status, we see a new side to her, a pitfall perhaps of her independence, a loneliness and yearning for companionship. This makes her vulnerable then, after the rejection of her previous two suitors Boldwood and Oak, to the advances of the caddish Sergeant Troy, portrayed with a refined debauchery by Tom Sturridge and marks the true reversal of Bathsheba’s fortunes. Suddenly, the woman who had an inspiring sense of self-worth is made a suppressed Victorian woman again and it is only as a result of the ironic passion of her former suitor Boldwood that she once again becomes liberated. The story as it is presented here then is perhaps a more accurate representation of the novel which in addition to its swooning romance, creates a complex world which the heroine and her suitors must navigate in order to survive and thrive.
This adaptation of the classic novel presents characters who are both refined and isolated and yet which each have their role to play in the creation of a world which demonstrates that politics and romance can impact everybody, even those who are Far From the Madding Crowd…