“Far From The Madding Crowd”

Why do we pick the men we do? Women’s selections of male companions must have intrigued Thomas Hardy for as a Victorian novelist much of his work centers on the psychological dynamics of male/female relationships. In “Far From The Madding Crowd”, the independently spirited and capriciously frank Bathsheba Everdene is proposed to by three men: Gabriel Oaks (Matthias Schoenaerts), Mr. William Boldwood ( Michael Sheen),and Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge).

“Meet me in the hollow of the ferns”… may be my favorite line. Having seen the 1967 film version crafted with Terence Stamp, Alan Bates, Peter Finch, and Julie Christie, I was not expecting to love Carey Mulligan in the role of Bathsheba. But,I did. I liked this 2014 costume drama better than John Schlesinger’s. In fact,the entire story is told better under the direction of Thomas Vinterberg.Watch the u-tube trailers of the 1967 version and see Julie  Christie screaming her lines as she plays haughtiness over Mulligan’s willfulness.

The film opens in 1870 Dorset. We are in Hardy country~ southwestern England, Wessex. There are variegated coasts, rolling heaths,verdant forests and luxuriant farmlands. Yet, we begin in the dark and a door opens with light and Bathsheba. A voice-over tells us her circumstances.Bathsheba is too wild to be a governess. She shows us her resourcefulness ,and she knows her power. In the open,free countryside,her independence grows and becomes her sense of pride.

Gabriel, a neighbor and the sturdy oak, has 100 acres of land and 200 sheep. He gives Bathsheba a young lamb and proposes marriage stating that “I will always be there for you.” She rebuffs him with stating that she does not wish to be tamed or married. Gabriel’s  financial fortunes are reversed when his border- collie- in -training impetuously leads his herd over a cliff. All die in the early morning surf. Mr. Gabriel Oaks is hired by Bathsheba to shepherd her interests in barley and wheat grain. She states to her inherited staff that it is her intention to astonish them all.

Sergeant Francis Troy with his scarlet uniform, dark hair and brassy gleam seduces Bathsheba with his sword exercises of trust, thrust , and danger. He tells her she is beautiful and needs to be kissed.Gabriel warns her to stay clear of him and not to believe him :”I care for you too much to see you go to ruin because of him.” A storm ensues as a presage of doom. Bathsheba marries Troy as he gambles,withholds knowledge of a former lover,and drinks French brandy to excess. Poor choice that he is, it is  ironic that he tells her, “I have made a terrible mistake” when we all know that she has.

Mr. Boldwood’s character is changed the most from Hardy’s 1870 novel. His backstory has the country gossips report that he was jilted by a former lover and is a confirmed bachelor because of this. Bathsheba and her aide Liddie tease him with a valentine. Boldwood becomes obsessed with Bathsheba and interrupts a dinner celebration where Gabriel is being lauded for saving Bathsheba’s ewes from clover bloat. Boldwood sings a ballad with Bathsheba where the refrain is “red rose bush how my loved slighted me/I chose the willow tree”. Boldwood presses her for an answer to his marriage proposal. He seems anything but bold when he notes her lack of desire for him. The theater audience laughed at his next lines: “I don’t mind if you marry me for pity.” Boldwood seems weak,never threatening. This change provides for more cinematic tension and then shock as the story proceeds.

Hardy revels in the way people form ideas about a loved one. In delusion,delirium or detachment,human pride holds strong.Bathsheba’s “Gab,I have been a fool” holds even stronger.

Hardy,as a romantic realist and a Victorian used hands to picture the inner workings of the heart. This new film version of the novel understands Hardy’s prose.”Gabriel’s fingers alighted on the young woman’s wrist. It was beating with a throb of intensity. He had frequently felt the same hard,quick beat in the femoral artery of his lambs when overdriven…” Count how many times Bathsheba’s hands and wrists are framed by the camera~limp as she stumbles out if the fern forest,locked as she remains headstrong. Thighs are eschewed here,but passion does flame in nineteen century style.

Anyway, enjoy a great adaptation and even revisit the novel or compare the earlier film and post your own insights in the comment section below.

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Christine Muller

Carrying a torch for film is what I have done for over forty years, thus the flambleau flamed when I was urged to start a blog. Saving suitcase loads of ticket stubs was no longer relevent so I had to change the game. Film has been important for me in the classroom and a respite for me outside of it. No other art form seems to edge the frayed seams of life as neatly as when a film is done well. I am happy that over one-hundred countries have citizens viewing my thoughts on Word Press, and a few leaving their own with me. Over eight- hundred comments to date, and over two-hundred films reviewed.

4 thoughts on ““Far From The Madding Crowd””

  1. The filmmakers are so busy hurrying along the storyline that many of the actors offers sketches of their characters rather than full portraits. Michael Sheen gives a typically subtle and nuanced performance as William Boldwood, the wealthy neighbouring farmer who becomes obsessed by Bathsheba after she sends him a Valentine’s card as a joke. However, with only limited screen time, he can’t come close to matching the sense of desperation and utter devastation that Peter Finch brought to the same role in the Schlesinger film.

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