Review: Far From The Madding Crowd Is Every English Teacher’s New Favorite Thing
Title: Far From The Madding Crowd
Director: Thomas Vinterberg
Screenwriter: Thomas Hardy (novel) and David Nicholls)
Principal Cast: Carey Mulligan, Matthias Schoenaerts, Michael Sheen, Tom Sturridge, Juno Temple, and Jessica Barden
Summary: In Victorian England, the independent and headstrong Bathsheba Everdene attracts three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak, a sheep farmer; Frank Troy, a reckless Sergeant; and William Boldwood, a prosperous and mature bachelor.
I feel like a bad English student. Now granted there is no way to read every book that is going to be considered a “classic”, and I like to think that I’ve read a good chunk of them, but Far From The Madding Crowd is just one that I never got around to read either in high school or college. So I guess you can say I’m going to be looking at this from a different angle as I don’t know the book and haven’t seen the previous adaptation. I didn’t know that much about the movie at all going in so I also wasn’t sure what I was getting into.
Far From The Madding Crowd is predictable in the way that most classics are but between a good cast and decent direction it’s entertaining enough, even if it doesn’t stand out too much.
There is a problem that comes with adapting classics and things that change a genre. They are so defining and inspiring that it has been “done before”. The story told in Far From The Madding Crowd is one that we know because we’ve seen in play out, in various different forms, in different movies. That doesn’t make the original bad but it does mean that the filmmakers have to work extra hard and perhaps can’t go with a straight adaptation. Ender’s Game had a similar problem a few years ago; a straight adaptation of something so influential will almost always come across as boring because everyone else has been copying it.
Far From The Madding Crowd neatly side steps being boring, but it also felt a little long at times. There is always plenty of plot going on and you really begin to relate to Bathsheba by the middle of the movie. Carey Mulligan is born for roles like this as she can go from looking like a seductress, to a blinding beauty, to a sad little girl that needs to be protected or to someone who will take absolutely no guff from anyone at the drop of a hat. It works very well for a character that is straining at the confinement of gender roles in 1870’s England. I always appreciate seeing a woman turn against what society and the men around her expect, so I really liked Bathsheba.
Mulligan is fortunate because she also have three great men backing her up. The best of the bunch is easily Matthias Schoenaerts as Gabriel Oak, or the “simple one” if we’re going by the tropes presented in the story. He has great chemistry with Mulligan and they play off of each other very well. He’s about as respectful as someone can be in that time period and, out of the three men in Bathsheba’s life, he might have her best interests at heart. Michael Sheen is William Boldwood, or the “safe one”, if we’re going by the tropes. Come the end of the movie I really felt the worst for him and was almost rooting for him to get his happy ending. Tom Sturridge as Sergeant Francis Troy rounds out the final man in Bathsheba’s life and he’s the “bad boy” to an extent. Sturridge makes Troy come off as just enough of a charmer and a creep that we know he’s not the man for Bathsheba, but we can understand why she fell for him.
Come the end of the movie I had a feeling I knew where all of this was heading, but I almost wanted Bathsheba to remain single and not have to choose between any of the men in her life. However, considering the time period, I can understand why that was impossible. There aren’t a lot of heroines in period novels where they have a lot of agency over their own lives. Bathsheba set the template by which many of the greatest female characters ever were built from.
Far From The Madding Crowd makes up for having a predictable story by having a good cast with great chemistry and a good director that makes it pretty good. It didn’t quite move into the realm of “great” for me, but I am sure that a lot of English teachers got very excited at the prospects of having a movie to show their class so they can take a few days off. Those students are fortunate in that they are getting a good movie out of the deal, as well.