Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writer: David Nicholls
Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge
Genre: Romance, Drama
Rating: PG-13 (for some sexuality and violence)
Far from the Madding Crowd is a remake of a somewhat well-known movie of the same title, debuting in the 60s, and originally adapted from the classic novel by Thomas Hardy.
In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong farm owner Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer; Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous and mature bachelor. This timeless story of Bathsheba’s choices and passions explores the nature of relationships and love–as well as the human ability to overcome hardships through resilience and perseverance.
Violence: Much like the pigs in the Gospels, sheep fall to their death after being guided off the side of a cliff. It’s slightly graphic. Later on a sheep is poked with a needle to deflate its lung. A gun is fired and someone is shot later in the film.
Language/Crude Humor: I don’t recall hardly any swearing, but I would be remiss to say it’s not there if it is.
Sexual Content: There is a brief sex scene where both characters are mostly shrouded in darkness. It’s PG-13 as that goes, but aside from another kiss later in the film and a psuedo-sensual swordplay scene halfway through, there is nothing else.
Drug/Alcohol Use: There is a drunken party for a wedding celebration halfway through the film.
Positive Content: There is room for allegory in the example of sheep being run off the side of a cliff, but it’s something I need to dwell on more. Bathsheba never stumbles into physical adultery, but it might be clear at points that her mind is enveloped by it. The men in the film are all fractured and don’t at all share perfection, but to see their flaws and to see the persevering character of Gabriel extends the importance of hard work and the payoff of patience.
Old-fashioned, yet exceedingly modern, Far from the Madding Crowd muddles its message, but dazzles with landscape and setting.
Typically, I’m not at all fond of tramping through fields of romantic drama films, but I’m definitely a sucker for independent films that garner positive feedback in their early premieres. At any rate, Carey Mulligan (Shame, The Great Gatsby) begins Far from the Madding Crowd as a sort of out-of-time-period feminist, and by the end of the film… maybe not so much.
I think Far from the Madding Crowd stands on its own, without need for comparison. Mulligan plays a strong lead character, who foolishly toys with the men around her, and breaks down under her own independence and pride. While refusing to settle, she is curious by nature, and noncommittally flies to whichever man the wind blows her towards.
Bathsheba has an air of control about her, and as she inherits her uncle’s farm, makes it known she will not settle for incompetence. Her standards are high, but a sudden twist of emotion unbundles the prideful character she exudes.
The three bachelors who circle her like birds of prey are each unique, but only one acts as a vulture. We meet our first and favorite, Gabriel (Matthias Schoenaerts), as a single sheepherder, who graphically loses his flock to the irrational barks of his dog. The next is William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), who is lured into Bathsheba’s love quadrilateral by an April Fool’s Valentine card. Finally, there is Sergeant Troy, who only stumbles on-screen after being unintentionally stood up at his own wedding.
Gabriel is the quiet, poor, hard-working man, who is physically strong, and much like Jacob and Rachel of the Bible, yearns for many years to take the hand of Bathsheba in marriage. Boldwood is wealthy, but old. He may not be physically attractive to her, but his wisdom, and absolute devotion to Bathsheba show his character, even to a fault. Again, Sergeant Troy is a blunt man, both handsome and wickedly deceiving. He craves his own passionate desires and Bathsheba is yet another conquest to achieve.
I feel I’m penning a saucy introduction for a trashy reality TV series, describing each bachelor and disclosing a couple of their dirty secrets. This is the interest of Far from the Madding Crowd though. It’s like indulging guilty pleasure in watching a television series like The Bachelorette. She might flit around from bachelor to bachelor, but as the dramatic tension rises, we finally see themes emerge, and it doesn’t feel like a pseudo-romantic slog of “who truly is the perfect guy?”
Director of photography, Charlotte Bruus Christensen takes plenty of time to show off the English countryside. Sometimes we transition from scene to scene with close-ups of tiny wildlife and flowers, squirming and blooming before our eyes. The film starts with the classic western-style silhouette of Bathsheba, standing alone in a doorway. We can’t see her at this point, but the final scene follows Bathsheba and her final suitor literally walking off into the sunset. I’m not sure the opening and ending sequence were written to demonstrate her character change as literally night and day, but the contrast in light seems to indicate it.
Bathsheba seems to break down before each bachelor, and her ego falls hard. If there was an intended pro-feminist message in here, it crumbles as Bathsheba realizes she can’t take the lead in everything she desires. Her pride dips, and others step in to help her. She can’t do it alone, and she seems relieved coming to this conclusion.
Far from the Madding Crowd showcases great performances from its actors, and even more interesting cinematography, but I’m just not convinced it means anything. If this is nothing more than a popular love story, then I suppose I feel my time was wasted in trying to dig something more important from it.
+ Very fun period piece + Excellent cinematography + Strong acting all around
- Mostly run-of-the-mill romantic drama
The Bottom Line
Far from the Madding Crowd is a strong remake with enough elements to keep itself interesting, but fails to intrigue thematically.