Review: Far from the Madding Crowd
Who runs the world? Certainly not girls, if the recent trend in film is any indication. In both The Age of Adaline and Avengers: Age of Ultron, the central characters of Adaline (Blake Lively) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), respectively, both seemingly independent, strong women, spend the majority of their screen times moping over men. In Ex Machina, the mysterious female robots at its core are created by Oscar Isaac’s allegorical character merely to dance, cook, and, of course, cleverly manipulate nice guy Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson). Whatever happened to autonomous, independent women on screen who we can all root for and (not so secretly) wish to emulate?
Far from the Madding Crowd heroine Bathsheba Everdene (played exquisitely by Carey Mulligan) is just the demigoddess film audiences are longing for. In the film’s opening voiceover (which is quickly abandoned in favor of having the audience decipher her based on her emotions and actions), the 19th century classic beauty describes herself as thus-“I grew accustomed to being on my own, some would say too accustomed.” Fresh faced yet self-sufficient and resolute, Ms. Everdene (much like her future namesake Katniss) is used to toiling tirelessly on her Aunt’s farm in rural Dorset. That is until she serendipitously catches the eye of sheppard Gabriel Oak (The Drop and Rust and Bone‘s Matthias Schoenaerts). In most other narratives the trajectory of the story would revolve around their liaison, but novelist Thomas Hardy, (on whose masterpiece novel the film is based upon), defied expectations and was far ahead of his time with this feminist yarn. And so Bathsheba, after scarce a girlish flirtation with Oak, refutes his marriage proposal and promises of security with assurances that he could never tame her unconstrained air. Shortly thereafter she inherits her family’s farm and so, too, spurns the advances of wealthy neighbor William Boldwood (Michael Sheen playing a Tom Hollander-esque role, were this a Joe Wright production). However, late one night she becomes intrinsically tangled (both literally and emotionally) with the dashing Sergeant Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), who, unbeknownst to Bathsheba, was accidentally jilted at the altar by her farm girl Fanny Robbin (the underrated Juno Temple). Mistaking unbridled lust with love, the otherwise resolute Ms. Everdene marries Troy and tumultuous drama ensues.
Danish director Thomas Vinterberg, perhaps best known for his gem The Hunt, has meticulously crafted yet another thematically perfect film involving an insular, tight knit community wherein reversals of fortune are everyday occurrences and sincere men are inevitably rewarded for their unwavering virtuousness. He has masterfully assembled a prime cast and crew, including a sublime screenplay by author David Nicholls, heart wrenching score by Craig Armstrong (Moulin Rouge!), and period costumes by Janet Patterson.
Though the novel has been adapted for film four times, Vinterberg et al. (especially leading lady Carey Mulligan) have made the story feel fresh and relevant. Film audiences are oft accused of being as fickle as Bathsheba, yet this is a film one should not stray far from.