Far From the Madding Crowd  (2015)    71/100

Rating :   71/100                                                                                  119 Min        12A

A very solid period drama with great performances from central players Carey Mulligan and Matthias Schoenaerts and equally well balanced direction from renowned auteur Thomas Vinterberg (whose last feature film was ‘The Hunt‘). Based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel (although he did revisit the text significantly in 1895 and again in 1901) of the same name, I had fully intended on reading the book before watching the film so as to get a proper historical context but alas my plans were thwarted on this occasion, which is a shame as the feminist aspect of the story for the time period (the Dorset countryside is the setting, incidentally, and the film was largely shot on location) in itself suggests it may be a worthy read. Mulligan as Bathsheba Everdene is the central character (Hardy appears to have relished coming up with character names – the other significant ones here being Gabriel Oak, Sergeant Francis Troy, Fanny Robin and William Boldwood {could Bathsheba have been the inspiration behind Katniss Everdeen?}), and we essentially watch as the local men in the area vie for her attention with a mixture of gentile sensibilities as to how to go about doing this, and then the, erm, not quite so gentile, as the fortunes of Bathsheba herself wax and wane, going from educated but poor into the inheritance of a sizeable farm with a score of staff and potential profits to be made admixt with mishaps delivered by the whims of nature.

So, in this sense there is an overt feminist aspect in that Bathsheba is a strong willed, intelligent and capable young woman surrounded by men whom she must on the one hand with their amorous advances reject, whilst on the other she must lead and command the respect of and also be able to barter with and hold her own against the competition. Mulligan is nigh on perfect in the role as she brings to the fore through subtlety the difficulties this incurs – we can see the adrenaline pumping as she faces off against one of the larger men bearing down on her, and yet her steely nerves carry her through, just as the imperfections and naivety of the character are also there to see as she makes mistakes and allows her ego, bolstered by position, to occasionally overstep the mark.

Yet, the absolute central crux of the story remains rooted in the fact that she is considered physically desirable by the majority, if not all, the males around her – would the novel have been commercially viable if she was perceived as a munter and no one wanted her? Now that would be interesting – men wanting to her marry her for financial gain only, she desiring someone but unable to woo him and at a loss what to do about it given the special constraints of the time, ravaged by the vagaries of her lust and jealousy. Male writers engage with the notion of extreme feminine beauty primarily because it’s what they themselves ultimately desire and thus it provides them and their characters with the most efficient fuel, and yet if literature is to endorse the idea of a universal enchantress then the opposite must also be true, feminine ugliness, generic repugnance, therein you would find a much more hard hitting and relevant expose of humanity. Art in general has always been more than happy to sidestep this concept and indeed you almost never see this kind of story told, although Vinterberg would have been the perfect person to tell it really – Far From the Madding Crowd: Redux.

As it is, the director gives us a distinct duality – the moments of expected beauty where we are spoiled by lovely scenic shots of the countryside with its rolling drumlins, valleys and sunlit lustre, coupled with much more down to earth scenes which look exactly as they would if one were standing there while they were being filmed, lacking much in the way of any filmic sheen but working really well because of it. Make no mistake though, this is much closer to a traditional romance than an exploration of the human condition, as there are several resolutions in the plot that will leave you thinking ‘hmm, that’s convenient’, or deus ex machina if you prefer, and Vinterberg himself buys into this, cue kissy moments with rotating camera and rays of sunlight flitting between mouths and bodies. Support from the likes of Tom Sturridge, Michael Sheen and Juno Temple proves continually apt and fitting and certainly if you are a fan of period dramas and classical romance then you should enjoy this one, and indeed it’s been done well enough to please the casual dabbler in the genre as well.

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