Thursday, June 18, 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd

Given a limited release in May, this adaptation of the Thomas Hardy novel finally made it to a theater near me, and, I actually went and saw it!

The story is set in 1870, and focuses on the life, trials and love of a young woman named Bathsheba Everdene. (The ever-immaculate Carey Mulligan.) Like a similarly named young female character (who is now more famous than this character who inspired her existence) Ms. Everdene is a strong-willed and free-spirited woman. She is an orphan, and relishes the fact that she has no one to answer to or depend upon. She inherits a farm and begins to run it herself.

But there are three men in this story and you know what that means -- tons of that very special drama that only a love triangle can create. (Is it still a triangle if there are four persons involved?)

I can hardly talk about anything I liked or didn't like without spoiling the entire basic plot of the movie, so the next several paragraphs will be doing just that. If you want to avoid spoilers skip to the marked end of the section. (Six paragraphs down, near the bottom, after the last photo.)

---- Spoilers! ----

He appealed to her dependence -- something she rejected and repressed.

The first of the three men is Gabriel Oak, (Matthias Schoenaerts) a shepherd who becomes her friend while she is still poor. He is a very straightforward, no nonsense kind of man, and when he falls in love with her, he asks her if she would like to marry him -- just like that, simply and sincerely. Bathsheba is not impressed, but turns him down gently. Then when he loses his flock and land to an accident and after she inherits her farm, she hires him to shepherd her sheep, and though he gives up on the possibility of marrying her he is always loyal to her -- a friend and an honest councilor.

The second is her neighbor, William Boldwood. (Michael Sheen) He is an older gentleman and never would have given her a second thought if it weren't for a silly and thoughtless act on her part of sending him a Valentine. He falls hopelessly, and she feels too sorry for him to tell him no outright, so there is almost always an unanswered marriage offer between them. Of the three men I feel most sorry for Boldwood -- hung up on her, miserable, and always kept in suspense.

He appealed to her purse -- something that constantly worried her.

And the third is Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) -- young, handsome, charming, and bitter. The woman he loved jilted him at the altar, and he looks at Bathsheba as nothing more than an interesting challenge. Mr. Oak and Mr. Boldwood respect, and are perhaps even a little intimidated by her stubborn independence, but Troy knows how to play a woman, and the willful Bathsheba bends to him just as easily as any other woman might. They marry and he begins to gamble away her money. Then his love turns up again, and explains how she didn't mean to jilt him. He promises to help her, but she dies. After that, there are only two options for a character in his situation, and he tries both unsuccessfully. I won't spoil this specifically, but I just love it when that happens to a character, and this one was handled particularly well.

He appealed to her vanity -- something she would never deny.

In the end Bathsheba is left with only two choices: one man, or no man, so we can hardly be proud of her choice. In fact she chose wrongly several times and still ends up with the best man. I must say though I was pleasantly surprised. I did not expect Bathsheba's independence to be portrayed as such a bad thing as it was, but she wasn't really a strong and independent woman -- not at first. At first she was only willful so that someone could tame her, and that's why she fell for Troy. She wanted to be trouble for someone and she was. The end doesn't see her as changed as I would have liked to see, but she is at least not a silly schoolgirl who relishes drama anymore. She begins to adopt a real strength, learns to understand herself and discovers what she really wants, and then chooses the man she should have chosen in the first place.

Though Ms. Everdene is the center of this story, I hesitate to call her a heroine. The hero, however, is obviously Gabriel. He always there though sometimes in the background and (at least to me) was the character with whom we can most naturally identify, and the one we most often feel for. This man only has two character flaws that I can see, and one is his choice of a woman. Really, she only deserves him at the end, and by then his extraordinary patience and loyalty places him even higher above her. The other is hardly a flaw either but it bothered me that he would never pursue her, even though that's what she wanted. She is that "elegant female" Mr. Collins knows all about that gives Lizzy such a bad rep.

Anyway, all's well that ends well, and if all there was to this movie was an opening and one proposal it would have been much too short. But not really bad -- after all, his first proposal was one of the best proposals I've seen on film. I would have said yes. He brought her a tiny baby lamb for goodness sake, and who cares if the wording was blunt? The look he had on his face while delivering those words said more than the words ever could.

This woman has a heart of stone.

---- End of Spoiler section. ----

So while I did enjoy this story well enough as a romance and a period piece -- full of all the elegant music, beautiful cinematography, fantastic costumes, and sweeping romance typical of a good installment to the genre -- it was the characterization that makes it stand out. I was quite impressed with the journey our heroine took, even if the result wasn't a drastic a change as I would have preferred. And I was even more impressed with what the story had to say on the subject of love, character, the dangers of certain behaviors, and the one thing few stories like this don't comment on; the depravity of human nature. And it was all done with a happy ending, and not one instance of overly-dramatic melodrama in between. And there were only a few romantic clich├ęs -- per scene -- which were done so well that I only minded once.

Though I only recognized three faces in the whole cast, I became quickly fond of the characters I was supposed to, and equally quickly despised the appropriate ones as well. I have never witnessed Carey Mulligan do anything wrong, and here is no exception. She fits the character perfectly and plays her expertly, walking the balance of likeability and realism to ideal results. Schoenaerts, Sheen and Sturridge are all equally impressive in their respective and diverse roles, each one characterized thoroughly and confidently, and all put together they make a great cast and play their part to make a very good movie.

There were some plot holes, and things glossed over confusingly as I was sure there would be, but I do wonder if it has to do more with honest adapting problems or if they were holes that could have been filled with a little more effort. I am now inspired to read the Thomas Hardy novel to explore deeper into these unique characters, and flesh out my understanding of this quite fascinating story.


  1. I want to see this because Carey Mulligan has never disappointed me! <3

    1. She is always so great. I'm sure she won't disappoint you in this one either!

  2. Glad you saw this and liked it (it looks gorgeous and I really liked the 90's version). It's never come to my closer theater (30 mins. away) but did make it to the bigger one (an hour or so away). I never got to it but am anticipating a quick DVD turnaround with its limited release. We'll see! :)

    1. It didn't come to my closest theater either but it was closer than that. It's not necessary to see on the big screen anyway so hopefully it will be released on DVD and you'll be able to watch it soon! I'm sure you'll like it! :) It is gorgeous, and well-made!

  3. Good to read that you've been able to see this movie! You make interesting points about Bathseba's character growth. I think, compared to other Hardy 'heroines' it's much more substantial. Probably because most of them die before they can change :-X

    1. Yes, I'm so glad I did, I liked it very much. And now I'm reading the book too, so thanks for your recommendation on that -- I think the book is even better. :) Hoping to get more character growth out of Bathsheba in the book too. Haha, that's sadly true! I'm glad this one's different. :)