Matthias Schoenaerts and Carey Mulligan star in director Thomas Vinterberg’s ‘Far From The Madding Crowd.’
The period piece romance can become a very standard affair in modern cinema. While most of the offerings are still akin to the classics that paved the way, it seems like this genre has never been able to find room for the progressive attitude that our current society is building around. It is fine to have a movie where a woman must find her true love, but there is a difference between building a character around her or just leaving her to be just a mirror of what we want to see.
Far From The Madding Crowd, coming from the Thomas Hardy novel, is a breath of fresh air that feels like some of the progressive feminist cinema that is coming out today rather than being from a novel that was published in 1874. Thanks to the lead work of Carey Mulligan, the skillful direction of Thomas Vinterberg, and a cast that aligned perfectly, this adaptation fits the progressive trend with a classical twist.
The film follows Bathsheba Everdene (Mulligan), a woman who came from nothing to inherit her uncle’s fortune and earn the right to run the farm that he left for her. Not usually a job that was linked to women, Bathsheba’s fiercely independent and headstrong personality makes her perfect for the job.
But with power also comes admirers in this time, and she is in no short of them. The first is Gabriel Oak (Matthias Schoenaerts) who she has known since her more humble days and has reunited with her when hard times hit his farm. He proposed to her before, but she knew that the future held more opportunities and turned him down.
The second, William Boldwood (Michael Sheen), is a timid and partially reclusive middle-aged man who owns land close to Everdene Farms. He is kind and has his heart in the right place even though he doesn’t quite understand Bathsheba’s personality as it doesn’t flow with the grain, but it also is what draws him to her.
The last one is Sgt. Francis Troy (Tom Sturridge), an army officer who is returning home and looks for work after he was separated from his true love, Fanny Robbin (Juno Temple), who he had intended to marry. Instead, he becomes stricken by Bathsheba and his forceful attitude and moxy seems to push her to marrying him over the other two.
Mulligan is able to walk the line between being blissfully beautiful yet utterly strong-willed at the same time. Bathsheba is a woman who desires love and would like for it to enter her heart, but isn’t content with just giving it away to the first man who seems to “get” her. This is what makes her union with Francis so torn from character, and what really frustrates me about the film, but also opens my eyes to the true meaning of being feminist.
Yes, Bathsheba gives up what she has been holding on so tightly to this man in what seems to be a very quick motion, but it also shows that being feminist isn’t being a perfect representation of a woman (or just a person in general). Even the best make mistakes and seem to compromise their morals, and even though Bathsheba did that, she is still as strong-willed and headstrong as before and understands her mistake almost immediately.
Her relationship with Gabriel though is the heart of the story and while he tries to wed her quickly (like in the first 20 minutes of the movie), it also allows him to progress and build as a character as he watches her interact, and even marry, the other two suitors, He gets her best of all, and that’s not because he sees that she is so independent, but he understands what makes her that way and respects (and even challenges her) on it.
This romantic progression felt organic and was a fresh approach to a genre that seems inclined to just throw the two lovebirds into each others arms for our own amusement as quickly as possible.
Far From The Madding Crowd is far from a perfect movie. But Vinterberg is able to find the modern themes in this timeless novel and bring it to life with fresh technique and spark. The camera feels more like an eye in this than other entries of the genre, and gives the whole thing a much more intimate sense.
It is a film made for those looking for a classical romance, and a reminder to those who don’t believe that they can be anything more than fairytale that there is much more to the genre with room to explore.