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part of a small rebellion | by maryann johanson

Far from the Madding Crowd movie review: a woman’s choices

Far from the Madding Crowd green light

Ridiculously romantic in all the best ways, and more modern, more progressive, and even just plain more grownup that half the movies thrown at us today.
I’m “biast” (pro): love the cast; desperate for stories about women

I’m “biast” (con): nothing

I have read the source material (but not since high school and have no strong memory of it)

(what is this about? see my critic’s minifesto)

The novel it’s based on is a century and a half old, and it opens with a mad-sheepdog accident, of all the crazy rural old-fashioned things, but this new cinematic adaptation of Thomas Hardy’s Far from the Madding Crowd is more modern, more progressive, and even just plain more grownup that half the movies thrown at us in our stodgy convention-bound movie landscape. And it’s not always modern in positive ways! The challenges faced by its female protagonist as she navigates a man’s professional realm and the assholery she encounters as she navigates a woman’s romantic options are barely distinguishable from what women are still putting up with today.

I haven’t read Hardy’s book since high school, and I remember so little of it that the plot twists here came as surprises, so it’s possible that screenwriter David Nicholls (Great Expectations, One Day) and director Thomas Vinterberg (The Hunt) have fudged some of the details a little to make their film more relevant to today’s audiences. If so, that’s okay. It’s great, in fact. The bones of the story remain the same, and even before this movie appeared, Bathsheba Everdene was smart, brave, and independent enough to inspire Suzanne Collins to name her Hunger Games protagonist after her.

Here, Bathsheba is a marvelous free spirit embodied with verve and passion and steely courage by Carey Mulligan (Inside Llewyn Davis, The Great Gatsby). She races her horse across the moors of Wessex — Hardy’s fictionalization of the rural English county of Dorset — riding astraddle in a most unladylike yet most practical manner. She wears a cool leather jacket and “intend[s] to astonish” the workers at her uncle’s farming estate, which she has just inherited and will run as if she were a man, even though it is the female-unfriendly Victorian 1870s. She is positively dripping in handsome suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts: A Little Chaos, Suite Française), a shepherd on her farm; William Boldwood (Michael Sheen: Kill the Messenger, Admission), the wealthy landowner next door; and Sergeant Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge: On the Road, Pirate Radio), whose rakish mustache and red uniform and swordplay skills would make Lydia Bennet swoon.

Although Bathsheba says things like “I’m too independent” when turning down proposals of marriage, and that she wants a husband who will “tame” her, it’s pretty clear that she doesn’t really want any husband at all, at least not one in the Victorian understanding of what a woman could expect from a marriage: to be subjugated to her husband, to be required to defer to him in all things. She wants an equal partner in her life and her business! She cannot be wooed by offering her presents — you cannot buy or bribe a woman with her own money and resources — and perhaps she can afford to be silly in her choice, and chose the man she wants rather than the one who would make the most advantageous match. She can make her decision out of desire, and not out of pragmatic need.

Bathsheba isn’t perfect, which is what makes her so intriguing. She makes some stupid mistakes — some out of stubborn pride, some of out of boneheaded thoughtlessness — but everything she does or doesn’t do is a factor of her work (running the estate), work she loves, being her life: any romantic entanglements will necessarily impact that and have to become part of it. Which is awesome. Women’s lives are complicated! This is more than most movies today are interested in dealing with or even acknowledging.

But this isn’t a messagey film: it’s a ridiculously romantic one in all the best ways, from the gorgeous landscapes to the sweeping emotions to the soap-opera-ish melodrama. It’s fun! And it’s sexy in a way that most movie nowadays can’t be bothered with, either. The only physical intimacy here is a supersexy kiss at the end, when Bathsheba finally ends up with the Right Guy, and it is hotter than anything I’ve seen onscreen in ages. Sexy here isn’t naked bodies, but bared hearts.

See also my #WhereAreTheWomen rating of Far from the Madding Crowd for its representation of girls and women.

green light 5 stars

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Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)
US/Can release: May 01 2015
UK/Ire release: May 01 2015

MPAA: rated PG-13 for some sexuality and violence
BBFC: rated 12A (moderate violence, sex references)

viewed at a private screening with an audience of critics

official site | IMDb
more reviews: Movie Review Query Engine | Rotten Tomatoes

If you’re tempted to post a comment that resembles anything on the film review comment bingo card, please reconsider.

  • bronxbee

    can’t wait… i also haven’t read the book in many years, and i only vaguely remember the movie from 1967 and i don’t think i ever saw the one from 1990s… but i remember Bathsheba being made out as a rather silly girl… i’m glad to hear the amazing Carey Mulligan can do better justice to the character.

  • She’s nothing like a silly girl here.

  • amanohyo

    My second favorite Hardy novel (after RotN – Gabriel Oak is my spirit animal but Diggory Venn is a bamf) with one of my favorite actresses in the lead! Must… keep…. expectations… low. My friends are all super psyched about Avengers 2 (I am too a little bit) however this is the film that really makes me squee in anticipation.
    Hopefully it’ll gross enough to pave the way for quality remakes of Tess, RotN, and Jude.

  • I’m going to have to go back and re-evaluate Thomas Hardy whom I grew to hate in school.

    Although my first thought on seeing the picture at the top of the review was “oh, now Sally Sparrow’s gone back in time”.

  • I don’t recall being enamored of Hardy. I might try reading this one again…

  • amanohyo

    What a laughable evaluation of Hardy. He’s got a 78% gripping rating at litbombs so obviously you’re both inbred philistines with terrible taste. I’d like to see either of you write four brilliant (and one mediocre) bittersweet romantic novels in a semi-fictional region of southwest England!

    As a matter of fact, everyone should ignore these comments. buy all the Wessex novels, and read them in a row this weekend just to spite you! Anyway, unless you’ve read The Mayor of Casterbridge and all of Hardy’s poetry, you’re not qualified to watch this film. Seriously, you can’t even spell biased correctly! I hope your pet hamster is brutally murdered and ground into cat food!

    *runs out of the room sobbing*

    =) I actually am a huge Hardy fanboy – I read the novels in the ninth grade when my brain was still awash in a thick broth of impressionable, teenage angst. They hold up pretty well.

  • I’ll be curious to hear what you make of this film. :-)

  • amanohyo

    Three complaints:

    1) The opening voiceover is awful and completely out of character in a movie that otherwise does a good job of showing rather than telling its lessons and themes. It begins the movie on a patronizing, sour note.

    2) Ironically, the movie lacks patience. In the book, you get a sense of a long passage of time that is lacking here. As a result, the final scene of the film has a very different flavour (a completely different setting too) – it feels like an optimistic, fresh beginning rather than the wise, gentle end of a long journey. Also, Boldwood’s actions feel less justified in a movie that skips so quickly through the plot highlights. This was a conscious choice to maintain audience interest, but I would have appreciated a more leisurely pace.

    3) Troy was poorly cast, and Oak is tad too urbane. It’s very difficult to understand how Bathsheba could possibly fall for a pale, scrawny, sniveling man like Troy when Oak is superior in every conceivable way. In the book, Oak’s language is noticeably more coarse than Troy’s, and the lesson that wisdom and character are independent of education has been sanded away by acquiescence to the conventions of a stereotypical period romance.

    Otherwise, I loved it. I was worried that Mulligan would be too mousy and dainty to make a good Bathsheba, but she pulls it off. Schoenaerts makes a perfect Oak physically, he just needs more roughness in his speech to contrast with his gentle personality and actions. Michael Sheen fucking nails Boldwood – simultaneously funny and tragic in every scene. I got a bit verklempt at the end, but with a little more patience, the climax would have been simultaneously less dramatic and much more satisfying. Far From the Madding Crowd typically gets pegged as the only Hardy novel with a happy ending, but it’s not as simple as that. There is a bittersweet sense of compromise and a relinquishing of ideals in the book that is missing here although it admirably avoids sliding into melodrama.

  • Schoenaerts makes a perfect Oak physically, he just needs more roughness in his speech to contrast with his gentle personality and actions.

    That’s pretty interesting, cuz he started off playing tough guys (his character in *Rust and Bone* is pretty unlikeable). Maybe he’s gone too far in the other direction. (Not that that would be his fault, if there’s any fault to lay, but the director’s.)

  • amanohyo

    Interesting – I’d never seen him in anything before this. I’ll check out Rust and Bone sometime. Mulligan is always very good, and this is a movie that requires a lot of subtle, wordless communication, so I was impressed that Schoenaerts held his own. I can understand the filmmakers’ desire to make Oak a little more suave, but they should have dialed it back just a tad and made Troy a lot more appealing.

  • He’s so great in everything I’ve seen him in, even when the movie around him isn’t amazing. (I thought *Rust and Bone* had some problems.)

  • Thomas Watson

    I’ve never read the book but this looks interesting, the cinematography is pretty striking

  • I think what he needed was a stronger ‘country’ accent. Hardy does say in the book that Oak was one of the quietest and gentlest of men you could meet. He was also supposed to be quite handsome. I think really Schoenaerts nailed it. Also he was far less confident than Alan Bates was in the 1967 version, which I saw just two weeks ago for the first time…Schoenaerts was less materialistic, more innocent even, than Bates portrayal of Gabriel. The ’67 version is less groovy sixties and more the railway children. Carey M much better than Julie Christie.

  • I wonder if he had some trouble with the accent. I’ve heard him do a specific New York accent perfectly, but perhaps that was easier than a rural English accent!

  • That was in The Drop? The Brooklyn accent? That was perfect. Mind you, he does tend to speak English normally with an American ‘twang’ so you could be right.

  • Ah, no, I forgot about that one! I was thinking of Blood Ties. His accent is so good there that I actually mentioned it in my review. :-)

  • Havent seen that…must check it out ☺

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