When a costume drama made some 10 years (or better) ago gets a makeover, I tend to sit up and take notice. This is true of the Thomas Hardy classic, Far from the Madding Crowd (2015). It has two prior adaptations (60s and later, the 90s), both of which I have seen, neither of which like. With a leading British and Hollywood star cast in this remake and a trio of newcomers in the supporting cast, this promised to be a gem. Below I attempt to sort out some of my thoughts on this unusual piece of cinema.
Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) Film Review
Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) has little taste for her name. Yet it’s the name her parent’s gave her. A young woman with no prospects, her parent’s now long gone, Bathsheba resides with an elderly aunt and helps to run her farm. The neighboring farmer, Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) is quite fond of the quirky Miss Everdene, and with his farm starting to prosper, he bumbles through a marriage proposal. Following this, changes visit everyone both of these people. Bathsheba inherits her uncle’s farm and comes into a small fortune, reversing the role between her and Gabriel. Simultaneously, he loses everything when his entire sheep herd is wiped out.
As life for Bathsheba begins to flourish and she relishes her new role as mistress of her own living and destiny, Gabriel walks into her life again. Only this time, it’s as a man in need of employment. Also entering her life is her neighbor, Mr. Boldwood (Michael Sheen), an older man immediately transfixed by his beautiful neighbor. But it’s the brash soldier Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge) who captures Bathsheba’s fancy, only it’s this new attachment that may lead her down a path of irreparable destruction.
…am I do have to go on without you?
Given my experience with Hardy (cinematic only), he seems to prefer walking his characters down a tragic path over giving them a witty journey as Jane Austen or Elizabeth Gaskell are known for. Instead he joins fellow the ranks of Charles Dickens with an eye for tragedy. I’ve seen two other films adapted from his works, and as a story, this is (by far) my most favorite. I really like the characters and complexities of their personality. Given how well this script is able to flesh out the characters and their respective quirks, I’d imagine the novel may dig even deeper into their identities.
Since I’ve brought them up, let’s begin with the characters. Having a female protagonist such as Bathsheba makes it tough for viewers to warm to her. She’s a fiery independent spirit (which is all well and good), but she does come across as a kind of spiteful, wishy-washy creature. She toys with the hearts of men who wish to capture her heart. Fortunately, Carey Mulligan softens the character. She makes her easy to like if not always understand, and pulses plenty of sass and spunk. Unlike the 90s version, I feel like, while still a bit of a tease, she’s less about herself, and more about caring for others and the ramifications of her actions.
The men are similarly complex. Of the three, I adore Gabriel; have sympathy for Boldwood; and I don’t think it’s too harsh to say I detest Troy. Seriously, here is a character that’s nothing if not… weird. As beautiful as the scenery may be, the “woods” scene between he and Bathsheba is abnormal.
If the characters fail you anywhere along the way, the cinematography won’t. This is one of the most beautiful period dramas I’ve seen. Every shot an a capture of emotion (particularly moments of longing between one pairing). The costuming also stuns; and looking at the “bigger” picture, Far from the Madding Crowd (2015) is nothing if not gorgeous. Characters take on lessons, and some they take to heart. Writer, David Nicholls (One Day, 2012’s Great Expectations) brings everything together very neatly. I love the end, ambiguous though it could be, it feels complete and manages to infuse the moment with some playful flirting that doubles as examples of genuine feelings, and the realization of a long-held emotion.
Given what I know of this story, this version does it right. Not only does it benefit from today’s cutting edge film technology, it seems to have finally cast the right set of stars to bring the classic piece of literature to life. Without question, this adaptation is my personal favorite. It’s as romantic as it is pretty to look at.
What about you: which adaptation of this story do you prefer? Have you seen Far from the Madding Crowd (2015)? Read the book? Share your comments down below.
Content: there’s a minor subplot involving a man with a child out of wedlock, and another lashes out once at his wife [verbal abuse]. Prior to marriage, a man becomes familiar with a woman, touching and groping her [while clothed]. There’s one scene of a married couple in bed, non-graphic. Someone is fatally shot; other than that, the film earns its rating for some thematic elements. The film is PG13.
Note: this review was published in the archives five or more years earlier. Since moving to WordPress, 90% of the reviews, lists and articles need re-formats and/or other updates. Updated edits and changes to fit current formats have been made; it has also been updated with new photos, and republished.
Originally published September 17, 2015