Saturday, 6 June 2015

Far from the Madding Crowd

In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Toy, a reckless sergeant and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.

Far from the Madding Crowd is directed by Thomas Vinterberg and stars Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen and Tom Sturridge. A light of feminism is the only addition in the most recent adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel. Immediately, the opening narration from the central character about her desire to maintain her independence in a patriarchal world suggests that this adaptation will assume its point of view throughout the film; but there's no further narration and we are left with the task of trying of trying to figure out what this woman's true priorities are. When he reviewed Hardy's fourth novel in 1874, Henry James complained that "we cannot say that we either understand or like Bathsheba. She is a young lady of the inconsequential, wilful, mettlesome type" who "remains alternately vague and seems always artificial". This critic has already gotten the better of all three previous attempts to put the novel on the screen. This time the basics are honoured in a reasonable way, if not exciting. It more conventional and more accomplished though. Thomas Venterberg brings a fresher perspective on these very ingrained cultural references that we have in our European history. In fact, this movie depicts rich details of rural life, the splendour of nature often underlined by a noted wit, nicely served on both side of the camera. Carey Mulligan succeeded in providing some answers. Her Bathsheba is prudent, discloses no more than necessary, to the great frustration of two of her suitors. She cannot be cajoled or sweet talked or negotiated. Moreover the gentlemen who orbit around her present themselves in full-form and so are men of no mystery whatsoever. I have to admit that I may have fell in love a little bit more with Farmer Oak's character as he's consistently by her side from the beginning, he's a loyal at times and also admirable of bravery. I had never read the book before I knew it was going to be released, but reading it I was struck by how modern and ahead of her time in this Victorian context Bathsheba was. She knew from the beginning that her life wasn't going to be defined by men. It's rare to find an heroine especially in the Victorian era, not seeking a husband as she doesn't really know if she wants to be married or not. It's extraordinary what Hardy wrote as watching it as a film now, it feels so contemporary, it says a lot about our culture. 

Overall, this tale of sheepherders and farmers in a Britain that no longer exists can't be expected to get the pulses racing of today's masses, but youngish female and literary nerds happy with romantic melodrama should form a solid core audience.

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