By Don Simpson | May 8, 2015
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Writers: Thomas Hardy (Novel), David Nicholls (Screenplay)
Starring: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, Tilly Vosburgh, Sam Phillips, Bradley Hall, Hilton McRae, Jessica Barden, Harry Peacock, Michael Sheen
Adapted from Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel, Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd follows Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) as she attempts to dissuade three cliched male suitors who seem to be ripped from the pages of trashy romance novels. Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is a monstrously rugged yet broodingly sensitive sheep farmer; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) is a wealthy yet socially awkward, 40-year-old bachelor; and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge) is a sexually confident and arrogant sergeant. While Bathsheba has no problem deflecting the advances of Gabriel and William, Frank lures her into the sexually metaphoric “hollow amid the ferns” where he whips out his (presumably) blunt sword, thrusting it repeatedly towards Bathsheba, leaving her panting breathlessly.
Bathsheba, the literary ancestor of Suzanne Collins’ Katniss Everdeen, is a modern woman who has exiled herself to the pastoral complacency of rural Victorian England. An empowered and independent woman, nowadays Bathsheba would most likely be labeled a feminist, but in 19th century England, she is a complete anomaly. Bathsheba knows exactly what she wants: to astonish everyone with her work ethic. Marriage is by no means anywhere on her radar, at least not until she meets Frank.
Though at least Frank does not offer to buy Bathsheba a piano as part of his proposal (she does not want to be bought by a man like a piece of property), he still ends up being the overly possessive husband she has always strived to avoid. Their marriage is a bit of a surprise, but it does not come without warning. Bathsheba often reminds us of her wild side, and Frank brings out her reckless impetuousness. Not taking heed to the message of the Irish folk ballad “Let No Man Steal Your Thyme,” Bathsheba ends up losing her virginity and wasting time with a false lover.
Though men often comment on her beauty, it is the unobtainable nature of Bathsheba that seems most alluring to them. She is practically oblivious to her ability to provoke, tease and confuse men. Like her Biblical namesake, Bathsheba entrances men and directly contributes to their destruction. Far from the Madding Crowd takes the notion of fate head-on, specifically how certain actions can have a butterfly effect; nature, too, plays a profound role in the [re]direction of the narrative.
From what we know of Bathsheba, she probably would have been much happier living during a time when she could casually date with no strings attached — Far from the Madding Crowd plays like a PSA for the importance of dating before marriage. Bathsheba’s approach to relationships is one of many ways in which she bucks gender roles for the time period and (perhaps unintentionally) disrupts the natural order of society.
Charlotte Bruus Christensen’s cinematography formally frames the story as a quintessential period piece, but then she accents her camerawork with slyly experimental flourishes. With Far from the Madding Crowd, Vinterberg sheds his Dogma 95 roots, delving deep into the swooning world of melodrama. While there are fleeting moments of social realism, and the majority of the script is intelligently presented, the final act of Far from the Madding Crowd gives the “cheap seats” exactly what they want. It is disappointing that a story that features one of the most masterfully penned women of Victorian English fiction ends on such an overtly saccharine note.