Based on what’s considered one of the best novels of its time, director Thomas Vinterberg’s Far from the Madding Crowd follows orphaned heroine Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) throughout the formative years of her young life, the men she attracts and her relationship with each of them.
There are three men who are attracted to the beautiful, headstrong and tempestuous young Bathsheba: the sturdy, plodding Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a sheep farmer who is captivated by her plucky spirit, Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a handsome and reckless Sergeant in the military and William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), a prosperous, older man with a substantial estate. Each of these men represents a different archetype: quiet and earnest, albeit without resources (Oak), flashy, fun and narcissistic (Troy) and boring but reliable (Boldwood). Which will Bathsheba pick as her husband?
Lavishly shot in the English countryside and beautifully costumed, it’s a period drama that had me shaking my head time and again as the story unfolded. Turns out that it’s not only highly predictable, but director Thomas Vinterberg never gave depth to any of the characters so it never went beyond archetypal drama on screen. The Brooding Man, The Hurt but Hopeful Man, and The Narcissistic Man kept moving in and out, taking turns with Bathsheba’s attention.
It reminded me of the great drama of relationships in high school. Does he really like me? Did she really say that about me? What does he really think? Situations were exaggerated for dramatic effect to the point that they became almost parody (like the confrontation at the Christmas party), and hurt the film even if arguably necessary as a plot device.
Take my commentary with a grain of salt, however, because romantic period movies are not my usual fare at the theater, so I might not be the target audience for this film anyway. Certainly there were many middle aged women in the movie theater who were part of the Jane Austen Book Club (they had signs!) and similar that seemed to have greatly enjoyed the film.
The David Nicholls screenplay just needed to put more emphasis on trying to get inside the motivations and desires of the male characters rather than simply portray them on screen as one-dimensional. But perhaps that’s a problem with Hardy’s source material. I don’t know, I haven’t read the book.
If you like romances, if you enjoy love winning out against all odds and a strong female character making her way through the overtly sexist and discriminatory world of Victorian England (the latter of which was entertaining the few times it was allowed on screen), this might well be a splendid film for you. If not, well, it might be one you have to endure to keep your significant other happy, and it’s not too bad in that regard.