Bathsheba Everdene (Carey Mulligan) is the kind of woman who can’t be tamed. Unruly, strong-willed and independent, she is one-of-a-kind in her Victorian England setting, and as a farmer she is determined to prove she can work just as hard as any man. The opportunity to do just that arises when a death in the family sees her inheriting a large farming estate, of which she becomes the sole owner and runner. But her new enterprise attracts a lot of attention, including the fancy of three very different suitors: Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts), a quiet but passionate shepherd, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen) an older, wealthy neighbour and Frank Troy (Tom Sturridge), a dashing but dangerous Sergeant.
Based on Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel of the same name, Far from the Madding Crowd tells the story of an independent woman who never saw herself as a wife, being moved by love, but not always in the right direction. It’s the kind of plot that was probably a big deal back in Victorian England, but today seems a little too old school. While Carrey Mulligan is a big advocate for strong, female roles in modern cinema, I would argue that Bathsheba Everdene is not one of these. Instead of being content on her own and steadfast in her desires, she ends up at the mercy of all three of these men at some stage or other, and for a film with a female protagonist, there are surprisingly few scenes in which her thoughts, actions and feelings aren’t revolving around a man.
Aside from this, the film itself also seems a little dated. It plays out almost like a romance novel, with choppy editing and fade-out transitions that don’t give the film that contemporary twist it so desperately needs. The character of Gabriel Oak in particular looks as if he’s been plucked from the front cover of one of those B-Grade romance books, and while he and his fellow cast members deliver fine performances, there is a little too much melodrama for my tastes. Like many period dramas, the pace is slow and sometimes boring, however the dialogue is much more user-friendly when compared to adaptions of such writers as Jane Austen. If anything, the screenplay has been dumbed down too much, to the point where there is nothing particularly clever or creative about it, and it merely acts as an aid for the plot, adding no other dimension or layer.
In saying that, Far from the Madding Crowd is a very attractive film, with beautiful landscapes and classic cinematography by Charlotte Bruus Christensen. The Victorian costuming and setting is beautifully crafted, and if we were citizens of 1870s England, I think we would all be in awe of this film. But as it stands today, Far From the Madding Crowd is not relevant enough to the modern woman to make much of a splash, and I fear this film will be one that fades into the background.
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