Far From the Madding Crowd Directed by Thomas Vinterberg, 2015. Screened at the Sydney Film Festival on Wednesday 3 June (Second screening Saturday 13 June). General Release date 25 June 2015.
I’ve always liked Thomas Hardy’s novels. There is an element of escapism of course, the luscious rural imagery evokes a lost Victorian landscape, but there is also often an undercurrent of rebellion against Victorian society running through many of Hardy’s main characters – think of the fate of Tess in Tess of the d’Urbervilles, or Jude in Jude in the Obscure.
Bathsheba Everdene, the central character in Far From the Madding Crowd, is also an individual constrained by the conventions of Victorian society. As a woman who comes into property, the expectation is that she will marry and allow her husband to run the farm. Instead she sets out to learn how to run the farm herself while spurning the advances of her wealthy and powerful neighbour.
Like most of Hardy’s major novels there have been numerous film adaptations of Far from the Madding Crowd, the first being a silent 1915 adapation directed by Laurence Trimble and featuring Florence Turner in the role of Bathsheba Everdene. The most well known version is probably the 1967 John Schlesinger production featuring Julie Christie, Alan Bates, Terence Stamp, and Peter Finch in the lead roles.
The latest adaptation, directed by Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt ) and featuring Carey Mulligan in the lead role, emphasises the modernness of Hardy’s novel. Indeed when a novel has been filmed as many times as Far from the Madding Crowd it does become difficult to view it purely on its own terms. It is first the film of a very popular and studied novel, but it is also has to be viewed through the other films made from the novel. Vinterberg’s film succeeds on this criteria, it has interpreted the original novel and has given us a different and strong film.
Vinterberg concentrates on the changing relationship between Bathsheba and Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a small tenant farmer who unsuccessfully asks Bathsheba to marry him at the opening of the film. Mulligan’s Bathsheba appears much more actively independent than Christie’s Bathsheba reflecting, perhaps more about changes in society over the last 50 years than a deliberate attempt to reinvent Hardy’s novel. Mulligan’s Bathsheba strides through the film, she creates a presence and she expects to be treated the same as the male farmers who surround her. At the same time, however, the film is essentially a romance, Bathsheba is surrounded by suitors, Gabriel Oak who is the first to propose and who later finds himself employed by Bathsheba, her wealthy neighbour William Boldwood who can see the advantage of uniting their two farms but lacks the emotional confidence to press his claim and the fickle Sergeant Troy who does win her heart but turns on her after their marriage.
Bathsheba has to battle to save her farm from her husband and Gabriel becomes more and more important to the success of the farm. When her husband is reported as being drowned it is her neighbour, however, who makes a second attempt. He is, of course, the safe choice, the farm would be secure and Bathsheba’s future would be mapped out. But she hangs back until everything comes to a head when her husband suddenly returns. A fight follows and Boldwood kills her husband.
Interestingly Vinterberg’s film has a traditionally romantic ending as Bathsheba and Gabriel finally realise the strength of their emotions in the final scenes. Interestingly both the novel and the 1967 film have a much more ambiguous ending – will they or won’t they? Vinterberg has decoded the conclusion for us and while it is a traditionally satisfying ending I was left wondering if a little ambiguity might not have lifted the ending just a little bit more.
Overall, however, Vinterberg’s Far From the Madding Crowd is a successful adaptation of Hardy’s novel and is, perhaps, superior in many ways to John Schlesinger’s 1967 version.
– Mark Roberts
Mark Roberts is a Sydney based writer and critic and editor of Rochford Street Review.
Screening details for Far From the Madding Crowd at the Sydney Film Festval http://tix2.sff.org.au/session_sff.asp?sn=Far+From+the+Madding+Crowd&g_cdr=1
Sydney Film Festival general information http://www.sff.org.au/