Review: Far from the Madding Crowd

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Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures
Image: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Based on Thomas Hardy’s first successful 19th century novel, Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd charts the experiences of the headstrong heroine Bathsheba Everdine as she encounters three suitors – all of whom possess entirely different qualities – and must choose between them.

Far from living in the shadow of John Schlesinger’s earlier 1967 film, Vinterberg’s adaptation renders the world of Hardy’s novel visually stunning and remains integral to its roots in the pastoral literary tradition. Director of photography, Charlotte Bruus Christensen, has truly excelled in capturing the beauty of Hardy’s portrayal of the southwest English countryside, with plenty of long landscape shots throughout.

In the demanding role of Bathsheba, Carey Mulligan rivals even Julie Christie’s infamous earlier performance as the same character. Mulligan displays her dramatic versatility as Bathsheba, at once conveying the staunchly independent heroine’s sense of perennial detachment in the company of Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) and Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), and at the same time betraying signs of her love of the third suitor, Mr. Troy (Tom Sturridge).

The film is successful in accurately recreating the dynamics of the relationships between the characters of Far from the Madding Crowd. Vinterberg’s adaptation is faithful to the novel in the way it conveys Bathsheba’s profound disinterest in the quiet and caring Gabriel and her irresistible attraction towards Troy, the only suitor who seems capable of ‘taming’ her.

Sheen and Sturridge are well cast in the very dissimilar roles of Boldwood and Troy – Boldwood is an older man whose hope of marrying Bathsheba lies in his money, whereas the handsome and youthful Troy is capable of wooing her through his looks alone. Playing Gabriel, however, Belgian actor Schoenaerts is unable to adopt the West Country accent and mannerisms appropriate to the role of the regional English farmer. Issues with casting, then, have rendered the film somewhat unconvincing in its depiction of certain aspects of Hardy’s novel.

One of the hallmarks of any good film adaptation is that it is well supported by strong use of quotations from the book. Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd is no exception: having inherited the farm, Hardy’s proto-feminist protagonist, Bathsheba, exerts her authority over the farmworkers, stating that ‘from now on [they] have a mistress, not a master.’ Much in the same way as the novel, this recent adaptation raises questions and issues concerning sexual politics that remain relevant in the twenty-first century.

Although Far from the Madding Crowd is an enjoyable watch on the whole – particularly for literary enthusiasts – it is a little slow-paced. The film is not engaging enough to function in its own right without the support of its inspiration in literature, and would likely be boring for someone who hadn’t read the book.

Unfortunately for those who have, critics of the film have also emphasised the shortcomings of its screenwriter, David Nicholls, in transferring Hardy’s 508-page classic to the big screen. Elision and interpolation are, of course, necessary processes in film adaptation, and yet some of the plot changes made by Nicholls have been described as ‘disastrous’.

Writing for Vulture, David Edelstein points out that the screenwriter fails to capture the period after the catastrophic wedding day of Troy and his fiancé, Fanny, as a result of truncation of the plot. In closing he asks, ‘Is there a longer cut of Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd? If so, it would be nice to see it’. The Guardian’s Peter Bradshaw has seconded this motion, hailing the film ‘a faintly rushed, crushed version: a quart-in-a-pint-pot account of the novel’.

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