Adapting classic literature is never an easy game. As with all books, people have a very clear mind as to how they view the characters within them and with the classics, you also have many years of history to compete with. Therefore, I don’t know if it is an advantage or a disadvantage to me and the film, that I come into Far From the Madding Crowd with a completely fresh pair of eyes. Having never read the book or seen the 1967 version, this is my first experience of the world of Bathsheba Everdene.
A young independent women, Bathsheba certainly stands out in the time that she lives. Inheriting her uncle’s farm, this independence is only strengthened by her being ability to support herself. Sadly, the rest of the world doesn’t see it this way and there are those who look down on her and also those who wish to marry her. In fact, there are three men who wish to take her hand. The strong and reliable Gabriel Oak, a Shepard who ends up working for Bathsheba after losing his own flock. The successful and lonely William Boldwood, her neighbour, whose attention is raised when she jokingly sends him a valentine’s card. Finally, there is the young and dashing Sergeant Troy, who attracts her through taking her into the woods and waving her sword around her head.
First and foremost this is a beautifully made adaptation. The farm life that these people live comes across as idyllic and there are moments of great joy in this film. However, that is also one of its weaknesses. These people’s struggles never feel that real. There is a lack of steel in the storytelling. When things are going horribly wrong the film struggles to convince you that it is not going to get better and it does leave it lacking a bit of an edge.
However, it is aided by some very good performances. Carey Mulligan has developed quite an eye for a good role and that continues here. She brings a good combination of strength and fear to Bathsheba, she wants the world to see her not as a women but as their equal, but is still prone to the same weaknesses as anyone else would be. Michael Sheen is also well cast as Boldwood, starting off as a cold and distant farmer who has his life pulled out from underneath him by falling in love with Miss Everdene.
Which leads nicely to one of my other problems with the film, which may come from the original source but as I said I’ve never read it. Bathsheba is at times incredibly annoying. While her strength is incredible, particularly for the time this film was set, she seems to cause an unnecessary amount of pain. Whether it is jokingly sending Boldwood Valentine’s cards or running off into the woods with a guy whose talents seem to involve waving a sword around really fast (in a way that would be totally useless for combat) and having a mustache. She repeatedly gets it wrong and tends to leave people hurting in her wake. Weakness in a character is always good thing, it is what makes them human, but in this case the weaknesses caused my sympathies at times to stray away from her and towards the poor men she has wrapped round her finger.
Despite these problems, Thomas Vinterberg has done a great job with this film. Far From the Madding Crowd feels modern and yet seeped in the history that comes along with it and casting the always brilliant Carey Mulligan was a masterstroke. Whether like me you are going in fresh or you are Madding Crowd crazy, this is a film that is well worth your time.