In association with The Grosvenor
Rural romance and 19th century feminism
Far from the Madding Crowd opens with expansive, sun filled shots of the rolling Dorset countryside but don’t be fooled – this meandering vibe doesn’t continue for the rest of the film. Vinterburg’s adaptation seems to squash Hardy’s novel into a very cramped space, making it less true to the novel’s dream-like quality but nevertheless bringing to the surface the key theme of womanhood.
Hardy’s novel has a very strong feminist message – surprising for the time period – and this is what is really emphasised in the movie above all else. Carey Mulligan absolutely shines in this film as the headstrong Bathsheba, a determined young women who comes to run her own farm – and her own life. Many suitors are presented and Bathsheba cooly rejects them, valuing independence above marriage. That is, until she falls for the roguish charms of a soldier….
Bathsheba’s inner struggle between head and heart is beautifully depicted by the sensitive Mulligan. Although her character is always striving to be calm and collected, Mulligan exposes the viewer to Bathsheba’s vulnerabilities suddenly at certain points throughout, which gives the film depth and life. When Bathsheba reveals to Sergeant Troy that she has never been kissed, we see her face exposed and an unfamiliar look of lostness in her eyes. This is echoed in a luscious scene in the ferns where we see her start to lose her grip on her rationality as the soldier plays a game of swishing his sword through the air dangerously close to her, a manifestation of her new exhilarating lust.
Although none come close to Mulligan, there are several other good performances in the movie. Tom Sturridge as the egotistical Sergeant Troy is convincing, although rather one dimensional and not as villainous as he has scope to be. Gabriel Oak is played by Matthias Schoenaerts, who gives rugged handsomeness and a calming vibe to the part of the man who spiritually fulfils Bathsheba. Michael Sheen as Mr Boldwood, the lovelorn neighbour hopelessly infatuated with Bathsheba is probably the best supporting actor, giving the role humour yet also complexity.
Overall, a very interesting and fresh Hardy adaptation that is well worth watching.