Bathsheba Everdene is a young and independent woman who inherits her uncle’s farm and intends to manage the farm herself: an unusual role for a woman in the Victorian era. At the beginning, Bathsheba works on her aunt’s smallholding where she meets a young shepherd, Gabriel Oak, who lives a frugal life but has managed to purchase his own flock of sheep. When Gabriel proposes marriage, Bathsheba refuses:
“I HATE to be thought men’s property in that way, though possibly I shall be had some day […] It wouldn’t do, Mr Oak. I want somebody to tame me; I am too independent; and you would never be able to, I know. (FftMC, ch. 4)
The next time they meet, their circumstances have reversed: Gabriel’s flock of sheep were driven to their deaths over the cliffs by an unruly young sheepdog and he has fallen on hard times, travelling from town to town in search of work. One night, he arrives at a farm where a hayrick is burning and the fire is threatening to destroy the barns. After helping to put out the fire, Gabriel discovers that the owner of the farm is, in fact, Bathsheba and he finds employment there as her shepherd. As the story progresses, Hardy introduces more characters who vie for Bathsheba’s hand in marriage: the dashing and vain Sergeant Troy and Mr. Boldwood, the gentleman farmer with an unhappy past.
I studied the novel when I was fifteen and I loved it: Hardy’s descriptions of rural life and the vividness of his characters encouraged me to read several of his books. However, Far from the Madding Crowd is arguably the warmest of his novels. It contains tragedy, but to a lesser extent than the sheer bleakness of Hardy’s other novels, such as Tess of the d’Urbervilles and Jude the Obscure. As I enjoyed FftMC so much, I eagerly anticipated the new movie adaptation of it and I was not disappointed. It is a beautiful adaptation of Hardy’s novel.
Carey Mulligan portrays the lead character and she is an ideal casting choice for Bathsheba: the audience watches her progression from a headstrong young girl to a woman who has reached a greater level of maturity by withstanding trials in her farm business and her love affairs. Mulligan conveys this progression through her expressive voice and mannerisms in a performance that deserves to win awards. Her three suitors are played by Matthias Schoenaerts (Gabriel), Michael Sheen (Mr. Boldwood) and Tom Sturridge (Troy).
This adaptation has been filmed with attentiveness to the essence of Hardy’s original work. It was filmed on location in Dorset and it shows panoramic views of Hardy’s Wessex countryside, as well as close-up shots of buds unfurling and a snail crawling up a fern. Scenes such as these create an evocative setting for the film. The setting is more than just a backdrop: the bucolic landscapes are as much a part of the film as the characters themselves.
I particularly enjoyed the moments of wry humour in the film. For instance, Bathsheba asks Gabriel for advice about her love life and when he asks why she is choosing him as her confidante, she responds that he is someone who can give her objective advice. Clearly, Gabriel is the last person who could give Bathsheba an objective perspective as he is still deeply in love with her! “You’re asking the wrong man,” he replies.
Gabriel repeats this line later on when Mr. Boldwood is nervously awaiting the arrival of Bathsheba to a Christmas party at which Boldwood is planning to propose. His fingers are trembling so he asks Gabriel to tie his bow tie for him: “Is there a knot which is particularly fashionable?”. It made me smile as Gabriel, clad in the everyday attire of a farm labourer, is evidently the wrong person to ask about such fripperies as the latest fashions of tying bow ties.
Of course, some of the plot details have been trimmed to condense the book into a two-hour movie. In the book, there is a scene where Bathsheba saves Gabriel’s life when he is sleeping and his hut fills up with smoke, but this has been omitted in the film. However, the structure of the plot is accurate and the screenwriter has not diverged wildly from the novel.
With a gorgeous soundtrack, stellar acting and wonderful locations, it was such a treat to see this masterly adaptation of Hardy’s novel on the big screen. I enjoyed it so much that I went to see it twice!
Far from the Madding Crowd was released on May 1st, 2015. Have you seen it? Are you a fan of Thomas Hardy’s writing?